T&FN Interview — Will Claye

The second of Will Claye’s World Indoor gold medals came at Birmingham in ’18. (GIANCARLO COLOMBO/PHOTO RUN)

EVER SINCE Will Claye burst onto the national scene by winning the NCAA triple jump as an Oklahoma frosh, his talent has been undeniable. What’s even more undeniable is that a decade later, the Arizona native has remained relevant when the big meets come around. Two medals at the ’12 Olympics. No horizontal jumper had done that in more than 75 years. Four years later, a silver in the triple jump with the farthest leap of his life to that point. All told, 8 medals at the international level. And 8 national titles, a figure that would surely be higher if Claye’s career hadn’t overlapped with that of his close friend, reigning American Record holder Christian Taylor.

The past year has delivered highs and lows for Claye, the most notable being his wedding last October to 7-time World Ranked hurdler Queen Harrison. That helped buoy him after a positive test for Clenbuterol—a finding that USADA was able to quickly establish came from contaminated meat on a Mexican vacation and resulted in no ban. Then there has been is budding career as a hip-hop artist. His EP West Side Story came out in March.

Now closing on a decade working with mentor Jeremy Fischer, Claye is training in San Diego, where he is preparing to attack both jumps at the USATF Championships at the end of the month. He bounced to the best triple of his life, 59-6¼ (18.14) at the late-June Jim Bush Invitational. That came at an early stop on what he is calling “God’s Will World Tour”: a competition schedule that features some striking music-themed artwork. After flying across the Atlantic to compete in Lausanne, Claye talked to us after checking into his hotel. The flight was smooth—“Pretty easy,” he says.

Now closing on a decade working with mentor Jeremy Fischer, Claye is training in San Diego, where he is preparing to attack both jumps at the USATF Championships at the end of the month. He bounced to the best triple of his life, 59-6¼ (18.14) at the late-June Jim Bush Invitational. That came at an early stop on what he is calling “God’s Will World Tour”: a competition schedule that features some striking music-themed artwork. After flying across the Atlantic to compete in Lausanne, Claye talked to us after checking into his hotel. The flight was smooth—“Pretty easy,” he says.

T&FN: By now you’ve had a little time to process your PR jump. Did it surprise you to go so far so early in the season?

Claye: It did. It actually did. I was not really looking to jump really far. I was just trying to get a rhythm before I headed over to Europe. It kind of just came out of nowhere and it was an hour and a half after the long jump. So I wasn’t sure how my legs would respond and I was out there having fun with it. I guess most of the times when unreal things like that happen, you’re just kind of having fun with it and just letting the body just move freely.

T&FN: Obviously that jump moves you to a great spot on the all-time lists. By any measure it was incredible. But how would you grade it technically?

Claye: Technically I would give it a 6, probably like 6.5 out of 10. Actually right before you called me, my coach sent me a video. He was doing some studying of the film and he sent a video just breaking down all the stuff that I did wrong [laughs]. There are a few things I did wrong, but I think I’m just in really good shape. We put in a lot of good work during the off season and I’m stronger and I’m faster so those things are taking me further. But technically as far as the mechanics of it, there are a lot of things I can do better. I actually had a couple of other jumps that were further than that one that I probably executed a bit, a bit, better, but they were fouls.

Claye has already scored a PR in the triple jump, even though his training is pointed towards the end of September. (JEFF COHEN)

T&FN: Did you find yourself pressing too hard once you realized how close you were to breaking records?

Claye: Yeah. I was just doing things a little bit different technically on those other jumps, trying to get it out there. Because I know I know what I’m capable of, I know what my body is capable of. So I just really wanted to take it there because not every day feels like that. You know? You don’t always get the feeling of… when things click like that. So I just wanted to take advantage of that day and try to do something that I’ve never done before.

T&FN: In terms of conditioning and your outlook on the season, are you right where you want to be right now?

Claye: Oh yeah. I would say I am. I definitely say I am. We started training in January and Worlds is in late September, early October. So the goal was to be ready then. Right now, we’re still easing into speedwork and things like that we haven’t done much of yet. So I think my coach has a great plan and I’m just following it. I think when the time is right, to really jump far, I think it’s gonna happen.

T&FN: You only competed a few times last season, but over the last year, you have dealt with some major things—some of it good, some of it bad—how did you keep it together through all that and come out in the kind of fantastic shape you’re in now?

Claye: After last year in May, I was just really tired. My coach was really tired and his father had just passed away. I was mentally drained and the energy of our group was just down. And so we decided to end the season early. I competed in four meets last year and Brittany Reese and I ended our season short because we knew that ’19, ’20 and ’21 were going to be big years. So, I ended my season right after Prefontaine in May. From there I just started working on my music, working on my project, and it gave me a release, you know. It let me take my mind somewhere else and refresh and not be so much into just track. Working with Puma, they were okay with that. And they gave me that freedom to do that. They want me to do the music as well, you know, as part of my brand and as who I am. They were in full support of that and I’m grateful for that. Red Bull was as well. I record at their studios in Santa Monica. So I was doing that. And then Queen was still competing into June. And then once her season ended, she planned a surprise trip to go to Mexico. And we were there for, I want to say, 5–6 days. We took our wedding photos there and everything like that.

T&FN: Sounds wonderful… until…

Claye: Upon arrival back to San Diego, the next day I is when I had that drug test. I found out that something that I ate in Mexico. Which was a shock, because I’m a huge advocate of clean sport. And so for something like that to happen was, it was a big shock. And I never, I never wanted to have anything like that on anyone’s mind about me. I know how the sport is, I know how prevalent drugs are in the sport. And I just thought, “Man, I just don’t want anyone to think that I was involved with anything like that.” And so it was tough. It was definitely tough for me.

T&FN: WADA cleared you pretty quickly, but is the lingering perception still damaging?

Claye: There’s still probably people that think I was lying. But that’s up to them; that’s for them to think. I know that I’ve been blessed as a jumper. I’ve been jumping well since the first time I ever started triple jumping, won the state championship as a freshman—first year I ever triple jumped; won a national title my freshman year of college; broke the American Junior Record. So, I know that I’ve just been blessed to be able to jump well. They went and tested the meats that I ate and that was all cleared. I knew it was going to get cleared because I don’t even take supplements. So I knew there was nothing that I had taken or anything like that. So yeah, that was a short period of time that I dealt with that.

T&FN: But there were some conspicuous high points over the last year.

Claye: Man, getting married to Queen, that’s been one of the best things that’s happened to me in my life as far as… just anything. You know, I feel like it’s made me a better athlete. It’s helped me in numerous ways. She definitely takes good care of me. And I’m just happy, you know, happy in life. I’m eating good. It’s a great feeling and like the Bible says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” So I think that’s definitely, true to my life and that’s a testament to my life. It’s all kind of just come together in a line for me in life and I’m definitely in a good space right now.

T&FN: Is your music on the back burner while you focus on track this season?

Claye: Yeah, for sure. The thing about the music is it can be old to me, but it can be new to the world. So all the music that I released, all the music that I release and the videos that I release, they’re done during the off-season. But if I pull them out during the season, everyone thinks that I’m doing music right then and there. Do you know what I mean? None of it is done at the same time. Whenever I’m training, that’s my full focus. Obviously, I like to keep things fresh and I like to always have content to put out. So I put out music during the season because I have it. It’s there. I have hundreds of songs that I’ve done during the off-season. I have videos that I’ve done and I just kind of keep them in the stash to periodically just put things out because when it comes to music, people want fresh sounds, they want new content, they want new video. So I keep those locked in until I feel like they’re ready to be put out.

T&FN: How concerned are you that the triple jump might be on the endangered events list?

Claye: I want to save our event. There’s been a lot of talking about the triple jump being taken out of the Diamond League. I want to do whatever I can to put our event where it should be. I think right now we have a few of the best jumpers of all time competing. I think it’s a disservice to the sport to not have us at the big shows and to not highlight us. So I want to be able to put big marks out there to highlight our event and for people to notice that the triple jump is one of the best art forms in our sport. When it’s done right and people see it, they love how it looks. And I’m kind of tired of being put on the back burner, you know?

I want my adventure to be seen right beside the 100, right beside the sprints and the distances and the mile and all of that. I want the triple jump to be up there, you know? And I think that just comes with continuing to put big marks out there and to continue being myself and entertaining the crowd. That’s something that is part of my duty to the sport. So that’s definitely another kind of inspiration for this season for me. I want to be able to make it undeniable. Like there’s no way you could take this event out because we’re just competing at such a high level. That’s definitely what’s been on my mind as far as competing this year.

T&FN: You’ve been around as an athlete forever, it seems. You won two medals at the 2012 Olympics. It’s almost surprising to realize you’re only 28. That’s not old. How many more years do you have left in those legs?

Claye: I have a lot of years left. I’ll put it like that [laughs]. A lot of years left. And the reason why I say that is because I’m still learning. I’m still learning my events and I don’t chase the money. I don’t go compete at every event, every meet. I pace myself and I think that will allow me to have a really long career because my body will be in one piece. My body will be healthy for a really long time because I take really good care of it. I have some great physios. That will definitely help for me to have a really, really long career. So I believe I’m just getting started, you know. I’m learning new things every year and I’m applying it. I feel like we all know how Jonathan Edwards was when he was doing his thing and Kenny Harrison and those guys, they were in their 30s. So that’s what the triple jump is. It’s an older man’s event because you learn how to do things each year until you really find your sweet spot. Then when you find the sweet spot, it’s kind of smooth sailing from there.