Claye's unexpected journey leads to 2 medals
PHOENIX — Will Claye's journey, or at least the first leg of it, came full circle Wednesday morning when he stepped off a plane in Phoenix and headed for Chase Field.
As the Olympic long and triple jumper waited to be honored by his hometown D-backs for winning silver and bronze medals in London earlier this month, he reflected and admitted he never saw any of this coming.
"When I was in high school, I didn't know it was going to come to this," Claye said. "I was just a kid out here playing sports. So to come out with two medals at the Olympics is just mind blowing. I feel like I could do anything now if I put my mind to it."
Claye grew up in Phoenix and attended Mountain Pointe High School, where he won two state championships in the triple jump. He became the first Arizona high school athlete to triple jump more than 50 feet. Claye might not have known it then, but that was the start of something big.
After graduating from Mountain Pointe, Claye headed to the University of Oklahoma. As a freshman, he won the triple jump championship at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships. After his sophomore season was derailed by injuries, he transferred to the University of Florida before withdrawing to focus on training for the Olympics.
Ahead of the 2012 Olympics, Claye won gold at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul. A few months later, he arrived in London. The most memorable part of the games — other than winning two medals — Claye recalled, was the opening ceremony.
"I got to meet everybody," Claye said. "The basketball players, the soccer players, the swimmers ... everybody. It was just awesome being around such a great group of athletes.
"That was when it hit me like 'Oh, I'm at the Olympics now.'"
Claye won his silver medal in triple jump, finishing behind former Florida teammate and fellow American Christian Taylor, and took bronze in the long jump. He proudly displayed the medals near home plate at Chase Field on Wednesday as his family looked on, beaming with pride and capturing every moment on camera.
Claye said he attended a handful of D-backs games growing up.
"I was probably sitting all the way up at the top," he joked, but he never could have predicted he'd be on the field, wearing two Olympic medals and waving to a cheering crowd.
"I didn't imagine things to be like this when I was younger," Claye said. "I just trained hard, gave it my all and dedicated my life to track and field. It paid off."
As much of a winding journey as it was for Claye to reach the Olympics, it's been just as much a whirlwind since. After the games ended, there were meets in Stockholm and Berlin, then a few days off spent with his brother in London before before heading back to the States for a meet in Birmingham, Ala. He made one more trip back to London before finally making it back to his home in San Diego on Tuesday.
Then it was off to Phoenix on Wednesday morning.
"This is my first stop basically since I've been back," Claye said. "It's just really overwhelming. I just got to see all my family, I'm back home in Arizona and it's hot.
"I'm glad to be back home celebrating my accomplishments with the people I love and all the people here in Arizona who have supported me for so long. I feel like getting the medals is bigger than me just getting them. It's for everybody that's supported me for so long. They deserve it just as much as I do because they helped me get where I am."
Claye hopes the next stage of his career follows a more predictable past. The destination in four years: Rio de Janeiro.
"London 2012 is passed and the next big thing is Rio," Claye said. "My training starts now. I'm just preparing myself to go to Rio and get two golds.
"Maybe I'll come back to another Diamondbacks game with a couple more medals."