Clarke rallies from average start
ASU shot putter looks to win fourth NCAA championship
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- There are a lot of things that are harder when you have issues with your index finger. Throwing a 14 ball is one of them.
That showed when Arizona State senior Jordan Clarke stepped into the circle for his first shot put attempt Friday at the NCAA DI Men’s Indoor Track and Field Championships. The three-time defending NCAA champion (2012 indoor and outdoor, 2011 outdoor) opened with an average throw, not looking quite geared in yet as he tossed the shot 18.89m/61-11 ¾.
“I think he got about three full throws in warm ups, and his first throw was to kind of get a fair throw,” ASU throws coach David Dumble said. “It came off his hand wrong.”
As Clarke came into the circle for his second throw and then his third throw, it was clear that things were coming together. The crowd let out a cheer as if fans were waiting for the long, soaring toss that he unleashed 19.87m/65-2 ¼ on his second throw. Then he kept going, jumping from fourth place to a commanding lead when he sent the shot 20.46m/67-1 ½ on the third throw.
It didn’t matter that he fouled on the next two throws. Clarke released his best throw of the day with 20.50m/67-3 ¼ in his final attempt. That gave Clarke two throws that outdistanced the rest of the field. In doing so he continued ASU’s amazing run of nine shot put titles in the past 11 NCAA championships. If he wins the outdoor title in June in Eugene, Ore. — and he will be favored if he continues on this pace — Clarke would become only the second athlete in NCAA history to win five consecutive shot put titles, after Karl Salb of Kansas did it from 1969 to 1971.
“I threw 68 feet today, not being 100 percent,” Clarke said. “If I can get to be 100 percent, I really have no idea what can happen. Hopefully something big.”
Clarke has already been doing something big for the past three years. He came into this weekend’s meet with a half-meter more than the second qualifier in the shot put. And according to Clarke, he’s been dealing with those “nerve issues” in his hand for the past six or seven weeks.
But before Clarke was the biggest star in college shot put, he was in the shadow of the previous biggest star in college shot put — who also happened to be on the same team.
Ryan Whiting, a 2012 U.S. Olympian and the 2012 world indoor champion in shot put, was in the midst of a dominant career at ASU during which he won six NCAA titles in shot put and discus.
Clarke arrived in Tempe as an unpolished phenom from Anchorage, Alaska.
“We had probably six or seven outdoor meets total, half of which had snow on the ground,” said Clarke, who was also a standout football player and an all-state center during his junior and senior high school seasons.
Whiting and Clarke became good friends, but Dumble said it was sometimes a struggle during Clarke’s redshirt freshman year because he kept comparing himself to Whiting. That began to change when Whiting went pro and Clarke became “the man,” Dumble said.
“About three years ago he really started to do that, worry about himself,” Dumble said. “And that’s when he started to see great improvement.”
Dumble has built an elite throws program at ASU. It’s impossible to compare the great throwers he’s coached over the years, he said, because they are all so different. But what sets Clarke apart showed in his performance in Fayetteville.
“He is…in control of his emotions,” Dumble said. “He is able to prepare himself well, he’s got confidence that’s out of this world right now.”
That helped Clarke overcome a slow start on Friday, and that’s why Dumble and Clarke believe he can take his throws to the next level.
“I’ve had a goal since I was in high school to make the Olympic team in the U.S.,” Clarke said. “It’s definitely not an easy feat as an American male shot putter, but I’ll definitely continue to, hopefully, 2016 no matter what. No matter what my situation is, I will definitely be training.”