RIO DE JANEIRO (BP) — Will Claye’s journey to the Rio Olympics began with heartbreak. He thought he had qualified in the long jump during the Olympic team trials in July. He even took a victory lap.
But he was wrong.
“It took a lot of prayers and a lot of my family, my agent, old coaches just uplifting me and letting me know that this is in God’s plan,” Claye told Baptist Press. “It was something that I couldn’t control and was something that I just had to let go because you can’t ever really look back and say that God’s plan is wrong.”
Claye medaled in both the long jump and the triple jump in the 2012 Olympics in London, the first athlete to do that in 80 years. This year, though, the triple jump will be his only opportunity to add to his Olympic medal collection.
He placed third in the long jump in the U.S. Olympic team trials in July, with two jumps that surpassed the minimum Olympic qualifying distance. That’s normally good enough to make the team.
But the two jumps meeting the Olympic qualifying distance were deemed to be wind-aided. His best effort without that was not quite good enough — one centimeter short of the necessary standard.
After dealing with the disappointment, Claye had to regroup and prepare for the triple jump trials (his better event), which he won and which sent him to Rio.
“I went into the triple jump with a clear mind just because I believed that there was something bigger that God had going on for me,” he said. “I think it was meant to happen like that, for me to just focus on one event this year.”
Claye grew up in a Christian home, with a mother he calls “the prayer warrior,” but it wasn’t until he was about ready to leave for college when he became a believer. He credits his older brother with sitting him down and explaining the Gospel to him.
“Are you ready to give your life to the Lord? Seriously do that?” his brother asked.
Claye said yes, and the two spent the night in prayer.
At the University of Oklahoma, where Claye began college (he later transferred to Florida), one of his teammates, D’Andre Fisher, was a committed Christian, and he had a strong influence on Claye’s life.
“He was one of the older guys on the team, so he began to take me to church and to Bible study,” Claye said. “Just hanging out with him, he always kept me accountable for my actions and things that I was doing. He made sure that I was on point. That was something that really, really put me in the right space with the Lord.”
His Christian journey has been one of steady growth since then. He says his mom helps with that, sending him Bible verses and words of encouragement daily and reminding him of what his purpose in life is. As an elite athlete, Claye said that purpose is to use the gifts God has given him to their fullest potential.
“Some people, I feel like, don’t even use their gifts in the right way,” he said. “I think I have a choice. God gave me this gift and I can use it the right way or the wrong way. The right way is to go out there and to glorify His name in all that I do.”
He also tries to keep in mind that life as an athlete is fleeting, and one day he’ll move on to something else. The most important thing he will have done in his career on the track is to make a difference for the Lord.
“It’s good to excel in sports, but at the end of the day, it’s about pleasing God, and making sure that you are doing right by Him, not just for earthly possessions or things like that, but to go to heaven,” Claye said. “Track and field and all the blessings that I’ve gotten on earth can be gone tomorrow.”
Claye will begin his Olympic competition on Monday (Aug. 15) with the triple jump qualifying rounds. The finals will be on Tuesday.