Timing is everything. All Olympic athletes know that expression to be true, and its manifestation is often merciless.
In a pre-U.S. Olympic Team Trials press conference Monday featuring Tokyo Games hopeful Will Claye, the triple and long jumper was asked by The Arizona Republic's Jeff Metcalfe for his status headed into the competition, and how teammate Christian Taylor's forthcoming absence since rupturing an Achilles last month would ultimately change things.
Claye said he physically felt amazing and that his coach Jeremy Fischer even shut him down at practice earlier that day.
"He said this is the best I've looked in a long time," Claye said. "He was like, 'man, you've got it, you're good.'"
But that apparently wasn't always the case as of late. Claye revealed, presumably for the first time publicly, that he, too, had suffered a recent Achilles rupture — just last year.
"I had ruptured my Achilles last year as well," Clayed said. "I know exactly what it's like to be going through."
The three-time Olympic medalist recorded no results in 2020, but so did many other athletes of similar caliber due to the pandemic. Prior to competing at Mt. SAC last month, Claye's last meet was the 2019 World Championships in Doha, where he took home a fourth world medal. Nearly six months later a decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympic was made, and it turns out, what evolved into a more than 19-month gap between competitions for Claye proved to be an adequate amount of time to recover from one of the toughest injuries track and field athletes can face.
And the 30-year-old knows full well how fortunate he is to have the opportunity. Because his injury happened last year, time was in his favor. Taylor was not so lucky.
"Thank God I was able to get another year to get ready for the Olympics," Claye said. "Had [the Games] been last year I probably wouldn't have been ready - I was trying to make it [but] yeah that's a tough injury to come back from, and I'm finally starting to feel like myself with the whole year to prepare."
For the majority of Claye's response, he spoke highly of Taylor. The duo have shared the triple jump podium at the last two Olympics and two world championships, going 1-2 at all four.
"My heart goes out to Christian. I had a long talk with him last week," he said. "I feel for him because that's not an easy thing he's going through, that's really tough. I just wanted to be there for him in any way that I can, because we've battled each other for the past…12 years? Ever since we were in high school."
This cycle's U.S. Olympic trials will mark the first U.S. senior outdoor championship meet since 2010 in which one will be competing without the other nearby. In 2015, they competed together but in separate events. The former University of Florida Gators – whose birthdays are five days apart, albeit separated by a year – have been a pillar of American track and field success for more than a decade.
"So it's going to be different without [Taylor] out there," Claye said. "You know, we always push each other in the best way, and the energy is like competing against one of your brothers where it's like, man, I've gotta be on my A-game because I know that he's gonna be on his."
Taylor will be back, Claye said. In the meantime, he hopes to keep Team USA on top.
"I really feel for [Taylor], but I know he's strong — that's one of the strongest dudes I've ever known — and I know he'll be back," Claye said. "So until then, I'll do my best to hold it down for the U.S. in the triple jump and the long jump and continue that medal streak that the U.S. has in the triple jump."
As for how Claye spent his time at home during the heightened phase of the ongoing pandemic, he said he traded and learned about cryptocurrency.
"Shoot, I made more money during the pandemic than I've ever made in a track season, so that was a blessing," he said. "I'm appreciative of that, for sure.'
Claye has the standards and is entered for the U.S. Olympic trials in both the triple and long jumps. Here's how you can watch him compete:
- Saturday, June 19, 8:15 p.m. ET – Triple Jump Qualifying (NBCOlympics.com / Peacock / NBCSN)
- Monday, June 21, 7:40 p.m. ET – Triple Jump Final (NBCOlympics.com / Peacock / NBCSN)
- Friday, June 25, 4:30 p.m. ET – Long Jump Qualifying (NBCOlympics.com)
- Sunday, June 27, 7:00 p.m. ET – Long Jump Final (NBCOlympics.com / Peacock / NBC)