Harrison Hill / Red Bull
- Two-time Olympic silver medalist Will Claye is headed to Tokyo in the Triple Jump.
- Claye is also a platinum recording artist with Red Bull Records.
- In both sport and music, Claye hopes to leave a legacy beyond his tangible success.
- Click HERE for more 2020 Tokyo Olympic news and previews!
Will Claye does it his way. As a two-time Olympic silver medalist in the triple jump and bronze medalist in the long jump, 30-year-old Claye has never been interested in the status quo. Now he’s heading to Tokyo.
While his ability to leap to insane distances is an important component of Claye’s life, it is only one component. His not only an athlete, but also a profoundly well-spoken advocate for integrity, a man of faith, a CEO of his own company and a platinum recording artist.
As Claye gears up for his trip to Japan, he is focused on trusting God, giving it his everything and letting the rest unfold as it may.
Claye finished atop the leaderboard in the triple jump at the U.S. Olympic Trials and qualified for his third Games after competing in both London and Rio de Janeiro.
The triple jump is a unique field event with a specific set of rules. It doesn’t often get the coverage of other events, like the 100-meter dash, but the required physicality and athleticism is worthy of recognition.
meanwhile over at the triple jump this is will claye
this form is so good jeems is crying happy tears of joy pic.twitter.com/DMEkJ4kx6X
— Dog Talk Sports Network (@DogTalkSports) June 22, 2021
To make Claye’s third Olympic birth even more impressive, he earned the top qualifying mark in his one and only attempt less than two years after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Had the 2020 Games not been postponed, he may not be here.
Over the past year, Claye and his team put the focus on getting healthy, staying healthy and doing the little things that might be looked over in a normal season.
“We weren’t training every day and we weren’t training on the track,” he said. “There were a lot of beach workouts and park workouts because all the facilities were closed. We were just really trying to just stay in shape, stay fresh and work on perfecting my form, my approach and my mentality.”
Olympic athletes live in four-year cycles, so preparation for Tokyo began shortly after 2016. By staying in form during the pandemic, it allowed Claye to put a pause on his preparation plan to solely focus on reaching top physical condition.
When the world slowly started opening back up, he transitioned back into the training cycle and working toward qualification.
“We train in four cycles, so every year has an emphasis, every unit has a focus,” he said. “We build on that and it just compounds as the training compounds. So I feel like I’m in a really good space for this Olympics, adding that extra year of first rehabilitation, and then additional preparation.”
Finding the Field.
More than 20 years before the Tokyo Games even became a reality, track and field wasn’t even on Claye’s radar.
Claye is of Sierra Leonean descent, where soccer is the biggest sport. Growing up, the Arizona-native started out playing soccer, based on the influence of his family. Not long thereafter, he started playing football.
During one Pop Warner game, Claye remembers, he was going crazy and scored five or six touchdowns. After the game, a local track coach asked him to try out for his team.
“So I go and try out for this team, which was kind of when I was introduced to track,” Claye said. “But it was still a supplemental thing to football. All the way into high school.”
On the high school level, many football players compete in track and field to stay in shape during the offseason. Claye was one of them.
“I go out there on my first day of practice and started doing drills,” he said. “My coach automatically told me I was going to be a triple jumper. He didn’t even ask. Well, I won the state championship that year as a freshman, which is when the triple jump — and even track and field, really — came into play.”
Claye went on to be a two-time Arizona state champion in the event and was the first Arizona high school athlete to jump more than 50 feet, setting the state record. Despite all of his success with track and field, the focus remained on football until his junior year.
“I had a few scholarship offers for football, but for track I had a scholarship offer from every school in the country,” Claye said. “I had to make that executive decision. I’m like ‘man, I’m 140 pounds.’ I could have gone out there and been smacked around on a football field or I could follow the track dream and see where it would take me.”
Obviously, Claye chose the latter. But not necessarily with a professional career path in mind.
“Track was going to give me a free college education, that was my main thing at the time,” he said. “It opened doors that I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t even know about professional track and field.”
Even after deciding to pursue track and field, it wasn’t always the focus. Claye originally committed to Southern California with plans to walk-on for head football coach Pete Carroll’s Trojans.
Eventually, he decided to make his current sport the priority and enrolled early at Oklahoma, the program with the nation’s top jumpers. Claye recognized the changing environment in his home town and realized that it was best for him to take his next step.
“There was a lot going on in the city and a lot of people close to me were making bad decisions and different decisions than I was,” he said. “It was getting closer and closer to me in terms of death and people going to jail. It was best for me to leave.”
Creating a career.
During Claye’s freshman year of college, which was supposed to be his senior year of high school, he won a national championship. It was at that point when he realized that he could take his track and field career to another level.
“At that point you start getting hit up by agents and stuff, so you’re exposed to it,” he said. “You start to learn the ins and outs of the profession and business to it. I learned that I could make a living from being a professional track athlete and locked in.”
Claye ended up getting injured at Oklahoma and transferred to Florida, where he won a paid of SEC Championships.
At that point, he was a known force in the triple jump amongst those in the United States.
However, it wasn’t until he won the bronze medal at the World Championships in 2011 that Will Claye was a name of note on the international level.
“I just won a national title in college, and in the same year, I won a medal at the World Championship,” he said. “And from there, I was respected in the sport and I was seen as a heavy hitter.”
With respect, in anything, comes immense pressure to perform. Claye embraced the target on his back and used it as a motivating factor to reach the top of his sport.
“I knew there were older guys who didn’t want me to come in and take their spot,” he said. “And at the same time, there will always be younger guys behind me who want to take my spot. I can’t ever stop pushing to get better, because then I will get beat.”
Keeping from complacency.
Claye never stopped grinding and went on to win medals in both the triple jump and long jump in London and medaled again in the triple jump in Rio.
After his performance on the biggest stage, Claye spontaneously proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Queen.
At 30 years old, Claye doesn’t consider 2020 his swan song. He doesn’t feel like this is his last chance to compete at the Olympics and he has “many more Olympics ahead of him.”
With that being said, there is mounting outside pressure on a back-to-back silver medalist to breakthrough and finally take gold. Claye doesn’t listen.
“I put the pressure on myself,” he said. “The pressure to do better, to get better, to be better, to compete better.”
To him, track and field is about zeroing in on the moment and focusing on yourself. Nobody else is out there, it’s just you and the track.
“When I’m on a runway, no one can stop me but me,” Claye said. “There’s no pressure that any other person or thing can put on me. There is only the pressure that I put on myself, and the expectations that I have of myself.”
Learning how to channel that pressure in the right way is where Claye finds his balance.
“Pressure can bust pipes or make a diamond,” he said. “You have to know how to use it, and that’s something that I’ve been bless with knowing how to do. My pressure comes for me knowing how well I have prepared to reach my goals and wanting to reach them.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get nervous, and actually, it goes hand in hand.
“I always get nervous,” Claye said. “But when I’m nervous, I know that it’s going to be a good meet. I know that the energy and adrenaline rush I get is for a reason— it’s about to go down.”
Achieving a dream while chasing another.
“My love for music and culture started at a young age,” Claye said. “My family used to go on a lot of road trips and my parents would play a lot of reggae music. And then I would sneak my brothers’ walkman CD players and listen to Outcast, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Jay-Z and DMX. On Sundays we would play basketball and we’d turn the radio on and listen to the oldies. I was very eclectic as far as what I was listening to.”
Growing up with such a wide-ranging selection around him, Claye was a sponge. Everything he heard and saw turned into a deep love for music, all the way down to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack.
Eventually, he and his friends decided to make music of their own. As Lil Bow Wow and Lil Romeo became big at the same age, Claye and his friends started recording tapes for fun.
Music was always a secondary thing to whatever else Claye was doing, but his friends saw his potential and encouraged him to pursue it in a more serious way. So he did.
Claye got in the studio with YG on ‘IDGAF’ in 2013 and realized that there was a real opportunity to find success as an artist.
Since then, Claye has released three EPs and two full-length albums.
He also founded the fashion label Elevate, with the motto “qui n’avance pas recult,” meaning “if you don’t move forward you move backward.”
Expression through music.
As a world-class athlete and platinum recording artist, Claye has found parallels in the two aspects of his life.
“With both things, you’re creating something out of nothing,” he said. “You start from scratch and you have an idea of what you want to do. You have to chip away at the creation, or preparation, process and then when the product is where you want it to be, you release it to the world.”
However, Claye finds more expression in his music. Track and field doesn’t often receive the coverage of football, basketball or soccer. Competing in track and field makes it difficult to capitalize on a platform and use your voice through sport.
With music, Claye can portray his message in however way he wants.
“Music is my main outlet in connecting to people,” he said. “Through my music, you can understand my views, my upbringing and my thoughts.”
While sports often ask its athletes to compete, music asks its artists to communicate and project.
“In sports, they really don’t provide an opportunity to really do or say much about how you feel about anything,” he said. “They want to hear how you feel about the competition today, or how your training went. It gets pretty bland. The music allows me to be more free with my thoughts.”
Reaching others is a big part of why Claye fell in love with music. He tries to connect through experience.
“I know I’m not the only person on this big earth that has the thoughts or views that I have,” Claye said. “I know there a lot of people that have gone through, or will go through things that I have or will go through. It’s a way for me to reach them on a different level and let them know that they’re heard and they aren’t alone.”
The ability to tell his story is a big part of where Claye’s partnership with Red Bull comes in.
“It’s allowed me to be me,” he said.
Having a supportive team is crucial in triumph and that is something Claye has always wanted. Now he’s found it.
“I’ve been able to express myself in so many different ways,” he said. “I’ve been able to do so many different things that have been pivotal in not just track and field or music, but just in culture period.”
Claye recently worked with Red Bull to produce a short film called “Elevate.” The film tells his story, shares his life and provides insight into who he is both on the track and off.
“I need my wings to fly and Red Bull lets me soar,” he said.
As Claye begins his third Olympics, he has a gold medal on his mind. He came so close to the elusive top spot in the Triple Jump in 2012 and 2016 and wants to leave Tokyo with golf around his neck.
However, his medals are not the only things that Claye wants to leave behind.
“I define success in both music and sport as the effect and inspiration that I then have on the next person and on as many people as possible,” he said.
Claye has nine global medals and only knows where three of them are off of the top of his head.
“Medals are amazing, don’t get me wrong,” he laughed. “But it’s bigger than that. When you are blessed with a platform that not many people get, I want to do the right thing with them. I want to be able to inspire and touch as many people as possible.”
When his time in the sport is done, Claye wants his legacy to live on.
“The lasting effect of a person lives longer than when they’re gone,” he said. “You see the lasting effect that Kobe has, that Michael Jackson has had, Elvis Presley… those type of people have had an effect on me. I want to be able to do the same thing through track and through music, or whatever it is that I end up doing in the future.”
At the end of the day, tangible success to Claye is worth less than the intangible. That is what drives him and what continues to push him forward.
“A barometer for success is the legacy you leave behind.”