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Olympian Claye takes on biggest challenge in London

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Posted: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 6:49 am

Most parents hear pitter-patter of little feet unsteadily making their way down a hallway.

Saffie Claye remembers it a little different.

“He was running from the start and we couldn’t get him to stop from going all of the time,” she said, remembering with a hearty laugh back to when her Olympian of a son was just a toddler. “He has always gone ahead and done whatever he wanted.”

Want is an expansive word that parents often have to keep explaining to their children that just because you want something doesn’t necessarily mean you get it.

That logic probably didn’t exactly work real well with Will Claye.

He wanted to be a high school state champion in track. Done.

Claye, 21, wanted to graduate Mountain Pointe early so he could be with then Oklahoma assistant coach Jeremy Fischer as early as possible. Done on Dec. 18, 2008, when he left early to become a Sooner.

He wanted to be a national champion in the triple jump. He wanted be an Olympian. Claye wanted to be the first American to qualify in both the triple and long jump since 2000. Done, done and done.

Getting the idea?

Whatever Claye wants to do seemingly happens so there are only one or two things left to do in the next couple of weeks, right?

There is the Opening Ceremony on Friday when he gets to walk in USA swag among all of the competitors from this country, followed by the start of the long jump on Aug. 3 through the finals the triple jump finals on Aug. 9.

He wants to take it all in and savor every moment.

“I’ve been able to do a lot, pretty much everything I wanted to put me in this position,” Claye said. “Now, I have to come home with gold.”

As much as the pattern might suggest otherwise, it will hardly be that easy once Claye arrives in London for the 2012 Summer Games.

It doesn’t mean Claye, who is expected to be 100 percent healthy after dealing with a right ankle injury, hasn’t been preparing to do just that for a long time.

“My first year of college I had aspirations, knowing I was three years out,” he said. “Then by the end of my freshman year (at Oklahoma), I knew I had a future as an Olympian. I knew if I stayed on the right path I would be here some day.

“You work so long to get to this point and now that I am here there is nothing going to stop me from performing my best. Someone might outperform me, but I will be at my best.”

Of course, Claye’s journey started long before then — Saffie would say about the time he started to run before he walked — as competed for the Pride, posting the best triple jump in the country in 2008 when he flew 52 feet and 4.25 feet.

It started the very relationship that has Claye on the brink of representing his country in one of the amazing sporting events an athlete can compete.

“You’ll see Will competing in the Olympics in 2012 and 2016,” Fischer told the Ahwatukee Foothills News in 2009. “I’ve told him that even though Oklahoma is a four-year academic and collegiate commitment he has an eight- or nine-year athletic commitment.”

That commitment followed Fischer to Florida for his sophomore year before winning the triple jump as a junior for the Gators while also finishing second in the nation in long jump.

Fischer is still his mentor today as Claye has been training with him in Las Vegas and San Diego since qualifying in Oregon in June.

Their long-standing relationship gives Claye that foundation of familiarity every athlete needs to have in order to get through the struggles and someone to share their success.

Of course the good times are the easy ones as everyone knows. It is the difficult times that produce the tough skin that allows a long jumper to fault on his first two attempts and come back to PR on his final approach down the runway.

“The mental part is what it’s about at this point,” Claye said. “You have to just stick with what you do in practice when there is no pressure. The physically part is there, but mentally you have to stay composed whether it might be raining or the biggest jump of your life.

“That’s the hardest part is staying calm in the competition and treating it like any other event no matter how big. Having someone like (Fischer) with me the whole way makes it easier.”

Saffie believes the special bond between the two is what has positioned Claye, who finished second in both events in the U.S. Olympic Trials, among the nation’s top leapers.

“You need someone you can trust and someone who believes in you,” said Saffie, who has siblings Will has never met in London. “That’s the type of relationship they have. Will knew from the start he wanted to be coached by (Fischer) and they are heading exactly where (London) they knew they were going to go.”

And when Claye gets there he won’t be tentative — no pitter-patters if you will — and will move as fast as he can toward the next thing he wants.

“I could have competed in a bunch of meets that paid well but I needed to train and get everything just right,” Claye said. “The money would have been nice, but nothing is going to beat that gold medal.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
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