Will Claye in action in the men's triple jump final at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty)
For most competitors, athletics is predominantly about championships. The attempt to peak for that one day a year, when the medals are up for grabs, is at the forefront of their minds for the full season leading in. It’s almost as if nothing else matters.
Yet, when USA’s Will Claye stepped out of the London Stadium after taking silver in the triple jump at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, behind his compatriot and long-time rival Christian Taylor, it was clear he was not satisfied. His aspirations were not merely defined by the colours gold, silver or bronze, but by the weight of history. With this in mind, there was really only one thing the world’s media wanted to know.
When is Jonathan Edwards’ enduring world record going to be broken?
“We were put in this position for a reason, to push each other to break the world record,” said Claye. “I feel like it will come one day, and I think it just comes down to executing and having the right conditions.”
Into thin air
Both Taylor and Claye’s obsession with Edwards’ 18.29m world record is visible to all, and they are planning to go to extreme lengths to try to accomplish it. The search for perfect conditions will take them to an unusual destination this Wednesday (16), as they intend to compete in the ski resort of Tignes in the French Alps, at an elevation of approximately 3,700m (12,000 feet) above sea level. Should that fail, they’ll have a final bite of this illusive cherry, for the time being, at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Brussels on Friday, 1 September.
“We are both going up there to try to break the world record. It may have an asterisk beside it, but hey, I’ll take it,” said Claye. “After that we have some time to reboot and get ourselves back together, so Brussels will be big.”
London was Claye’s third time finishing in the silver medal position at a global outdoor championship, after the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. On each occasion his USA teammate Christian Taylor has got the better of him. Despite his admiration for his rival, Claye admits he is growing tired of consistently finishing second best.
“I’m going to work my butt off so I don’t lose ever again,” he says. “It’s like a brotherly rivalry. You don’t want to lose to your brother. It’s very competitive but at the same time you love him.
“I’m always going to have that chip on my shoulder and I’m always going to want to win. I got second, and I don’t ever want to get second again.”
In London last Thursday, Claye achieved a distance of 17.63m with his third-round jump, and finished an agonising 5cm down on Taylor. Despite having a very consistent series, with four of his five other jumps measuring 17.49m or better, the 26-year-old was left unsatisfied by his performance on the night.
“I feel I didn’t execute as well as I could,” he said. “I felt like I left a lot of distance out there. For my furthest jump I didn’t hit the board. That is unacceptable and that is something I’m going to have to live with and work on for the next time.”
Away from athletics, Claye has finally decided to pursue one of his other big passions in life: music. His area of expertise is in the genre of hip-hop, and he released his debut album, entitled ‘Look What You Created’ in April of this year. For now, he sees it as a welcome distraction from the high-pressure world of elite athletics, but he hasn’t ruled out a longer-term future in the business.
“I started making music before I started triple jumping, so I’ve been at it a long time, but I’ve decided now I want to put it out there for the people.
“It gives me a good balance in life. It gives me an outlet to vent and it’s my little diary to just give off who I am. If the right situation comes about in the future, it’s definitely something I would entertain doing professionally. Maybe one of these years I’ll take a year off track and work on a real album with some serious artists.”
That’s all for the future. For now, there’s the small matter of Jonathan Edwards’ long-standing mark, lurking prominently like a back itch that just can’t quite be scratched.
“I feel like Jonathan sees it in us, he sees that we are capable of it,” said Claye. “It seems to be the topic of conversation between us when we meet. You can feel him starting to let it go. He knows that it is coming.
“It’s more about who gets it last, rather than first. Once it’s broken, it’s going to continue to get broken. Just like when the four-minute-mile barrier was broken, it just started to flood afterwards.
“It’s just going to open new boundaries.”
James Sullivan for the IAAF