Will Claye Wants To Be Better Than In 2019

His farthest jump ever came in ’19, but post-Achilles surgery Will Claye says his practice numbers are back to that level. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

HAVING REBOUNDED SPECTACULARLY WELL from an Achilles rupture in December ’19, winning the Olympic Trials in just his second meet back, Will Claye plans a laser focus for his upcoming trip to Tokyo.

The 30-year-old triple jump star has two Olympic silvers to his name: London ’12 and Rio ’16 — plus a long jump bronze from London — and if he brings home a medallion of any color from the Japanese capital he will make himself just the third triple jumper in Olympic history to have won more than a pair of medals.

Viktor Saneyev of the Soviet Union amassed the largest collection at 4 (3 golds 1968–76 plus silver in ’80), surpassing Finn Vilho Tuulos (gold in ’20 plus bronzes in ’24 & ’28).

Claye’s quest, however, is monochromatic. In a good way. It’s all about the gold.

He says, “I’ve got all my eggs in one basket, man. You know what I’m going out there for. It’s not a secret as to what it is. I feel like there’s nothing else on my mind but to go out there and come back with what I feel like is already mine and what I believe is mine and what I feel like God has set out for me.

“So everything else — I mean, there is nothing else.” Not with Tokyo’s C19 situation.

“We can’t go out in the city. We can’t do nothing,” Claye says — it’s just the reality. “There’s nothing we can do but go out there and train and compete. So, yeah, I’m going out there to handle business.

“I feel like that’s all I all I’ve got on my mind at this point. It’s different. You know, 2012, I have family that lives in London. I had all my family there. I was able to go out into the city, experience it, go to the hospitalities and do all of these cool things, but we won’t have that this time.”

Claye finds it sad that Team USA tracksters are scheduled to arrive in Japan after the Opening Ceremony, later than athletes from other nations who have attended in-country training camps. “My first Olympics in 2012, I walked [in the Opening Ceremony],” he says, “and I was able to just meet and talk with some of my idols in sports, some of the athletes that I look up to like Kobe, LeBron, and actually being able to spend time with these people while we were preparing to do Opening Ceremonies.

“I think those are the memories that last a lifetime, and although I probably wasn’t going to do Opening Ceremonies this year, for someone who this may be their first Olympics and it’s a once in a lifetime thing — you never know if you’ll be able to get back to that stage — I think that’s something that everyone has to do at least once.”

After the Rio TJ, before the eyes of a packed stadium crowd he proposed to his wife, the former Queen Harrison, whom he married 3 years ago. But with C19, there will be no family memories made in Tokyo. “So, yeah,” he says, “I’m just going out there to handle business at this point.”

His “numbers at practice are back to where I was in 2019, which is amazing,” Claye says. “It’s a blessing. A huge shout out to my doctors, my Red Bull high-performance team, my wife, all my friends who just kept me in good spirits.

“You know, [the injury] was a dark place. I was in a dark place going through that. I’ve never been in a point to where I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t do things for myself. So the hardest thing was not being able to walk for over a month and just really thinking about the devastation of that type of injury and how it’s ended a lot of people’s careers. And so I was just trying to stay positive and just work as hard as I could each day to try to get better.”

Out of his injury darkness, Claye says, “I had to create my own light. And once I did that, I looked around and found out that I was there for a reason and that it was to make me stronger and to make me better in the long run. Not even just as a jumper, but as a person, as Will Claye. So every day was just taking a step on faith.”

His OT win, Claye says, was merely a stepping stone: “Yeah, I just wanted to go to Trials, get it done and, and set my eyes on the Games.”

Since the Trials, coach Jeremy Fischer has put Claye and LJ legend training mate Brittney Reese through a final wringer in workouts. “He kinda loaded us up,” Claye says. “It’s been tough these past three weeks we’ve been going through it. It’s been some crazy workouts, but I think, you know, he had the Olympics in mind at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t really preparing for Trials or anything like that.

“So we are just priming up to be our best at the Games. I think these next few weeks as we travel and as we get to Tokyo, we’ll start to feel fresh and we’ll start to be ready to go out there and put some big jumps out there.”

Battling back to practice performances as good as he had in ’19 — the year of the 59-6¼ (18.14) PR that moved him to No. 3 on the all-time world list — gives Claye “a tremendous amount of confidence. I feel like I don’t want to compare myself to 2019, though. I want to be better than 2019.” ◻︎