Will Claye Inspires His Friend and Rival in the Triple-Jump
TOKYO – Three weeks after ruining his Achilles tendon during a track and field competition in May, Christian Taylor was in a hyperbaric chamber when his phone rang.
Before his injury, Taylor had big dreams: winning a third consecutive Olympic gold medal in the men’s triple jump, breaking the world record of nearly 26 years in the event, pushing the limits of human performance. But now, as he faced the reality that he would be watching the Tokyo Games from home, he felt a whirlwind of sad emotions.
“My heart was with the Olympics,” he said.
When he answered the phone, he heard the familiar voice of Will Claye, Taylor’s former college teammate and the man he had so often beaten to Olympic titles and world championships. Claye was about to reveal a secret, which he had kept a secret for over a year: he had broken his Achilles while playing basketball in 2019.
“I’m back jumping now,” Claye told him, “and I know you can do it too. “
Taylor dealt with the news. Claye had gone through 2020 without competition, and Taylor thought Claye had taken a sabbatical during the pandemic to cultivate her interests in fashion and music. (“There’s so much going on,” Taylor said in a recent phone interview.) But suddenly it all made sense: Claye had recovered from a catastrophic injury, walking the same long road as Taylor was now facing it.
Claye’s comeback culminates with another Olympic appearance and another long-awaited victory for gold. After finishing second to Taylor at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics – and virtually every world competition since 2011 – Claye, 30, is one of the favorites in the men’s triple jump at the Tokyo Games, where the final takes place on Thursday. (Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST).
“It’s going to be different without him,” Claye said of Taylor, “but he’s one of the strongest guys I know.”
Taylor and Claye have been connected for years as two of their event’s most important and formidable figures, their paths and legacies intertwined – now more than ever.
At Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Claye won the state championships as one of the top rookies in the country. But even though he dominated the regional scene, Claye kept hearing about another long member prodigy outside of Atlanta named Christian Taylor. Claye regularly tapped into DyeStat.com, a popular track and field website, to keep tabs on Taylor and compare their performances.
“I didn’t even know the guy,” Claye said, “but I was like,“ OK, this is my competition. I have to put numbers.
They didn’t meet until 2009, when they shared the NCAA Indoor Championship stage as freshmen – Claye competing for Oklahoma and Taylor for Florida. After landing a huge jump on his last attempt to overtake Taylor’s lead, Claye started to cheer. The problem was, Taylor also had one more jump.
“I think I triggered it,” Claye said.
Sure enough, Taylor won the competition with a massive final effort. But Claye had marked the spirits.
“His confidence,” Taylor said. “You could feel his presence. You knew he came to do a show, and you knew he came for business: this guy is not having fun.
A few months later, Claye passed Taylor in the NCAA Outdoor Championships before taking another unconventional step that shaped the career trajectory of the two men: he was transferred to Florida.
“It was a decision by KD,” said Claye, referring to Kevin Durant, who has made a name for himself in recent years as hopscotch among NBA super-teams. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m going where all the winners are.'”
It was the equivalent of signing with the 2016 Golden State Warriors (or the 2019 Brooklyn Nets): Claye wanted to train with Taylor and several other top athletes who were being coached by Dick Booth, one of the jumping gurus. the most renowned in the country. For two years, Claye and Taylor have been able to get the best out of each other. Each day was its own competition.
“We were pushing each other at all levels,” Taylor said. “Who was in training first?” Who enters and leaves the training room? Who hydrates the best?
Claye brought a level of enthusiasm to the craft that was contagious, Taylor said. If their coaches gave them a new exercise, Claye would dive right into it.
“Even if he was going to ruin everything completely,” Taylor said. “I admired this quality: jump first, ask questions later. “
Together, they began to set outsized goals. They were no longer focused on college competitions. Instead, they were targeting the Olympics.
Claye and Taylor would spend much of the next decade separated by fractions of inches, even if they went their own way, training in different cities for different coaches. Still, the chemistry between them was evident during the encounters.
“When I see it, I know I have to perform to the best of my ability,” said Taylor, who has won four of the last five world championships, including the last three. “He mentally challenges me to be in a different place.”
But the triple jump is extremely taxing on the body – “If you watch a video of the triple jump in slow motion, it looks like your leg is going to break,” Claye said – and he had already suffered two stress fractures in the lower leg. back when he injured his Achilles in 2019, which he suspected was a cumulative toll product.
Claye described it as “the darkest time of my life”. But the pandemic, in its own way, provided an opening by forcing an Olympic postponement. Claye knew he would have a chance to make it back to Tokyo in time.
“For me having another year was like ‘Wow, my gosh that’s another blessing,’” Claye said.
After going through post-rehab training sessions – some of which involved running a series of 10 to 12 steep hills, he said, with a 45-degree incline – Claye felt ready for the US trials. in June. Taylor, treating his surgically repaired leg, watched from home with direct interest.
“I watched every jump,” Taylor said. “I watched his film as if I was watching my own. I watched how active he was with every contact. I watched every thrust. I watched each take off.
Rather than appearing hesitant, Taylor said, Claye was aggressive and confident, and he launched at 56.55 to secure the victory and secure his place at the Games.
“I think my biggest takeaway was that he looked like he was at peace,” Taylor said, “that he looked like he was having fun.”
Popular among his peers, Taylor leaned on his faith as he worked through the early stages of his recovery in Austria, where he spent time with his fiancee, Beate Schrott, a former Olympic hurdler. He recently lost his walking boot.
“It’s the small wins right now,” he said.
Taylor hopes to compete at the world championships next year to defend his title. But first, he’ll watch his friend and rival – the man who helped him believe his own comeback is possible – chase Olympic gold halfway around the world.
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