UAlbany Alumna Grace Claxton In London For World Championships
ALBANY, N.Y. – One year ago, then-rising University at Albany senior Grace Claxton traveled to Brazil to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro for her native Puerto Rico in the 400m hurdles. Now a UAlbany alumna, Claxton has made her way to London to compete in the same event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships.
“I think she’s significantly better than last year,” said UAlbany Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives, with whom Grace continued to train following the expiration of her eligibility. “I think she can run under 55 seconds. The weather will certainly play a role, but the temperatures in London are similar to Albany, so she won’t experience the same adjustment as someone might who trains in warmer weather. And Grace is a good bad-weather runner. Competing in poor conditions doesn’t bother her at all.”
After her 14th place finish in the 400m hurdles at the 2016 Olympics, at which time she ran her personal-best 55.85, Claxton returned to Albany, where she had one year of classes and one indoor season of eligibility remaining. During that time, Claxton won one more America East Individual title (400m), and earned her second NCAA Second Team All-America honors by placing in the 400m at NCAA Indoor Championships.
Upon the conclusion of her eligibility as a Great Dane, Claxton held four school records, and held all-time program top 10 marks in four additional events. She has 12 America East titles, including two championship meet records. Finally, Claxton is a four-time ECAC Champion and a two-time NCAA All-American.
Since she stopped competing for UAlbany, Claxton has spent her time focusing exclusively on preparing for the World Championships. She raced seven times through the spring and the summer, in which she ran the first four alongside her former UAlbany teammates. Starting shortly after her indoor season ended, Claxton returned to Puerto Rico for the Spring Break Classic, where she won the 400m hurdles in 58.80. Next, at the Florida Relays, Claxton placed second in 56.70. She nearly matched her time with a 56.75 at the Mt. SAC Relays in California two weeks later, placing fifth overall.
“Grace’s workouts were better than ever this year,” said Vives. “Her strength training was better. She’s gotten much stronger in the last year. Her hurdles are better. She can lead with both legs now and she alternates well.”
Two weeks later, Claxton competed at the Penn Relays as a member of the Shore Athletic Club 4x400m relay. One of her teammates on the relay, Pariis Garcia, is also one of Claxton’s teammates on the Puerto Rico 4x400m relay that has been racing together for nearly two years. Claxton’s team won its heat in 3:41.99.
It was another month before Claxton raced again. She made her second trip to Puerto Rico, this time to compete in the 400m at the Puerto Rico Outdoor National Championships. Claxton took first place overall in 54.03.
Despite having competed in three hurdles events through the spring, Claxton still had not yet qualified for World Championships. Due to entry restrictions in the Diamond League series in Europe, for which a competitor has to rank highly enough worldwide in his or her event, the level of competition in the 400m hurdles where Claxton could race wouldn’t provide the high quality race that would afford her the best opportunity to hit the qualifying standard. Claxton received word that she would be allowed to race in the preliminary round of the Jamaica Senior Outdoor Championships, in what would be her final opportunity to hit the qualifying standard. She needed to run 56.10, and she finished in exactly 56.10.
With the qualification standard met, Claxton would race in one more meet before focusing her attention on training. At Guyana’s Alainn Pompey Invitational, she placed second overall in the 400m hurdles in 57.28.
For the next two weeks before departing, Claxton put the finishing touches on her training. Her final workout was a test-effort 500m individual time trial on the UAlbany track. Shooting for 1:11, Claxton finished in 1:10.87, her fastest time ever, and the fastest 500m ever run on UAlbany’s outdoor track.
“People don’t know that 39 days before the Olympics last year, Grace strained her hamstring,” said Vives. “We did a lot of maintenance work and recovery to address her injury in the final stretch of her training. We waited until a week before her race to actually test it. But this year she’s healthy, and we’ve been able to prepare a lot more effectively.”
Claxton left for Puerto Rico on Thursday, July 27, and then departed for London with the Puerto Rico delegation on Monday, July 31. The leadup to a meet like World Championships can be daunting, but it’s something Claxton is used to by now.
“While World Championships may be new for her, she knows what the leadup process is like for the big events," said Vives. She’s experienced it with the Olympics last year, and even before that, she competed at the World Indoor Championships last March in Oregon.”
World Championships start Friday, August 4. Claxton does not race until Monday, August 7 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. The semifinals are scheduled for Tuesday, August 8 at 3:35 p.m. Eastern, and the finals are scheduled for Thursday, August 10 at 4:35 p.m. Eastern.
“Everyone in the field has run under 56 seconds, and Grace is ranked 38 or 40 among the competitors," said Vives. "If she’s going to take that next step into the finals, she’s going to need to treat every race as though it is the finals. But she has her best races at her biggest events. She just needs to race.”
Claxton certainly has performed well in big moments during her career. She’s UAlbany’s first-ever individual champion at the Penn Relays, she won the open 400m and the 400m hurdles in the same America East Outdoor Championship meet, and in her last season, she ran three all-out 400m races in three straight days to qualify for NCAA Indoor Championships, with her fastest time coming on the third day.
“She is a big meet competitor, and she steps up when it counts,” said Vives. “She’s ready to perform. I’m looking forward to seeing how she does on Monday.”
The IAAF World Championships can be viewed on the NBC Sports family of networks and can be streamed on nbcsports.com. Live results can be found at the IAAF World Championships home page or through the IAAF app.