At last week's Diamond League in Eugene, US triple jumper Will Claye jumped 17.66m – just 4cm off his personal best. And now the world and Olympic medallist wants more. Claye tells SPIKES how he plans to become the fourth man in history to smash through the 18-metre barrier.
Will Claye has a goal: to triple jump 18 metres in 2014.
Only Jonathan Edwards, Kenny Harrison and Teddy Tamgho have ever done it (wind-legally). This sounds obvious: but it's REALLY far. 59-feet – the equivalent of doing a hop, step and jump the length of three Ford pick-up trucks.
“18 metres is a big number when it comes to the triple jump and you become one of the greats when you get in that 18m range,” says Claye, 22. “It is a goal to achieve that indoors and then outdoors.
“Seeing Teddy [Tamgho, who won gold at the Moscow 2013 World Championships with 18.04m, where Claye won bronze] do it, showed me it was possible. When you watch Jonathan Edwards jump 18 metres it is like ‘wow, that is amazing’. But when you see it in person it is like ‘I can do that, too’. It has given me a lot of motivation to cross that barrier.”
Here are Claye's seven steps to 18 metre heaven:
1. Get your lift on
At last year's world champs Claye caught up with Teddy Tamgho’s coach Ivan Pedroso, a four-time world long jump champion. He gave him a sage piece of advice.
“He told me: ‘you have one of the best last phases out there, but your second phase is lacking. You have to get stronger’,” Claye recalls. “My speed and quickness will always be there, but I need to get stronger to get more out of my second phase because my first two phases are not as good as they should be.
“The first two phases are a lot about improving power, so I’ve started to introduce power cleans. Last year I only did hang cleans. I haven’t maxed out yet this year, but the weights I’m lifting are way ahead of where I was at this time last year.”
P.S. 'Power cleans' are like the spectacular weight lifts you see in the Olympics, starting from the floor. With hang cleans, you start standing up.
Praise the Lord: Claye won TJ silver and LJ bronze at London 2012.
2. Balance sheet
Claye's coach Jeremy Fischer has introduced a series of balance exercises in an effort to improve a left leg deficiency which may be costing him vital centimetres. Claye does a test where he closes his eyes and tries to stand still for 40 seconds. Go on, try it yourself!
A perfectly balanced individual will remain rooted to the spot, but Claye moves to the right – which indicates a left leg weakness – and he and his team are taking measures to rectify this.
“I work on exercises in which I balance on one leg while standing on a ball. The coach will throw a ball and I have to catch it. I have a weakness on my left side, caused by the fact I have stress fractures in my lower back. And I have nerve damage going down my left leg.
“It is hard to prove I am more balanced than when I started [the exercises], but I certainly feel it.”
3. Marginal Gainesville
At the end of last season, Will moved from Gainesville, where he studied at the University of Florida, and made the move west to live and train at the Olympic Training Centre in San Diego. He believes the move has given his athletics fresh impetus.
“I have a lot less distractions in San Diego,” he says. “I’m more focused. I’m not in a college town and I’m able to focus on the task in hand. I don’t have to worry about anything else but track and my business [Will has his own clothing line].”
4. Group benefits
Amongst his training partners in San Diego is world and Olympic long jump heroine Brittney Reese, and the group works to push each other forward.
“One of my training partners might be stronger in some areas than me, but that just makes me work harder.
“I’m not the best at everything, but I’m going to outwork whoever is around me. It pushes me to do more.”
Out from the shadows: Claye won world triple jump bronze at both Daegu 2011 and Moscow 2013 (above).
5. Fuel yourself fitter
Diet is an area Will is tightening up on, in his quest to ensure his body can withstand the rigours of bounding out to 18.00m and beyond. This year he has added multivitamins to his daily routine.
“I’m feeling fresher and I have more energy for workouts,” he explains.
6. Be inspired
Besides the expertise of his coach, he also has the wise words of former Olympic triple jump champions Al Joyner (1984) and Kenny Harrison (1996) – as well as the long jump legend Dwight Phillips to draw upon.
“I speak to Al most days and also speak to Kenny. Both instil me with a lot of confidence. Kenny believes I can jump 18.50m.
“Dwight has also become one of the biggest mentors. He is like a big brother. He told me: ‘you have got what it takes, but you are doing a lot of stuff wrong. Once you learn that I think you’ll put those [world] records out of reach’.”
7. Learn from the greats
To be the best, Will has to learn from the best, meaning his evening entertainment often means eschewing Netflix for YouTube videos of triple jump greats. Edwards, Conley, Tamgho and Harrison: he has watched and viewed them all in action countless times. This extends to training, too.
“We basically do all the same drills as the jumpers Dick Booth coached [such as Mike Conley, 1992 Olympic champ],” says Claye.