Jordan Clarke of Anchorage, fresh off his third consecutive NCAA shot put championship, can't wait for his next competition, even though he goes into it knowing he's unlikely to contend for a medal.
Clarke returns to action Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., where the stakes are bigger than even a national collegiate championship. The top three throwers will qualify for the Summer Olympics.
Because Americans are among the world's biggest talents in the shot put, the field will be nearly as elite as the one that gathers later this summer in London. It is all but guaranteed there will be guys whose throws this weekend would put them on the Olympic teams of other nations, but not their own.
Despite the enormity of the stage and the odds, Clarke isn't nervous.
"It's kind of a no-pressure event for me," he said in a phone interview earlier this month. "It's just for fun at this point."
At 21, Clarke is just a baby when it comes to the shot put. Granted, he's a 6-foot-4, 315-pound baby, but he is five to 10 years away from the age when most throwers hit their peak. He'll be one of the youngest shot putters at Eugene's Hayward Field.
"I'm in the best possible spot when it comes to this meet," Clarke said. "I have a 68-foot PR, which is a very respectable throw. There's a chance I could make (the Olympic team) but it will probably take more than that, so for me, I go in there as the underdog. I go in there for the experience and to do my best.
"But to have that top competition around me, to push me to my best -- anything can happen at this point."
Dave Dumble, Clarke's coach at Arizona State, said he wouldn't be surprised if the talent at the trials inspires Clarke to come through with another personal record (PR).
"He's right on the mark. He has a chance of PR'ing and having the potential of making the Olympics," Dumble said. "It is out there, but it is kind of a long shot.
"He's going to compete against some of top shot putters in the world. Can he make the top 8? Can he make the finals? That would be a great accomplishment for him and he could use it as a learning experience if he can navigate through the qualifying (round) and the very next day come back and throw far in the finals."
One thing the Bartlett High grad has going for him: He goes big when the competition is big.
Clarke registered personal-bests in winning each of his three NCAA championships -- last year's 2011 outdoor title (64-9 3/4), March's 2012 indoor title (68-5 1/4) and this month's 2012 outdoor title (66-11 1/4). At this season's Pac-12 track and field championships, Clarke was named Athlete of the Meet for winning the shot put, finishing second in the hammer and placing third in the discus.
"I'm a natural competitor," Clarke said. "I love to throw my farthest at the best time. I start to peak a couple weeks before big meets, and my body reacts real well."
Dumble said he had no clue or expectation that Clarke would own three NCAA titles by the end of his junior year.
"Jordan is a great talent but there are some talented shot putters out there," Dumble said. "I knew he had the potential to win one, but I knew it would be a tough battle.
"For him to win three in a row and he still has a year to go? It just stuns me. It definitely exceeds my expectation."
A no-fear attitude when it comes to big meets has taken Clarke far, Dumble added.
"He's learned the right mind-set. Sometimes you go into big meets and you have a fear of failure,'' Dumble said. "Jordan goes in thinking, it's gonna be exciting when I do this. Two or three weeks before, he'll tell me, 'I'm feeling good at practice. I'm looking forward to it.' ''
To make it big in the shot put, a man needs to be big and strong. Clarke is both, and he works hard to get that way.
He said he spends an average of four hours a day training, about 4 1/2 hours in the fall and anywhere from 3 to 4 1/2 hours in the spring. That leaves him with time for school, eating and little else.
He said he eats five or six times a day. During the fall, he consumes about 6,000 calories a day. Other times, 4,000 to 5,500 calories a day.
In the weight room, he bench-pressed 485 pounds in November and he said he's even stronger now. In November, he was able to do two repetitions at 450 pounds; now he can do two reps at 465 pounds.
Other top marks include 390 pounds in the power clean, 286 in the power snatch and 1,250 in the belt squat.
Clarke went to Arizona State after a spectacular high school career at Bartlett, setting state records in the shot put and discus that could last for years. He's gotten better and better, and now he's a semifinalist for the Bowerman Award, given to Division I's top track and field athlete.
Clarke's first two years in college -- including a redshirt season his first year -- were spent in the company of Ryan Whiting, a five-time NCAA shot put champion.
"He saw how (Ryan) trained, saw what his diet was, all these things high school kids usually don't do," Dumble said.
The impact was almost immediate. In Clarke's first season of college competition, as a redshirt freshman, he earned All-American honors at the NCAA Outdoor championships by placing fifth. In the same meet, Whiting captured his fifth NCAA championship.
Whiting, 25, enters the Olympic trials as this season's world leader with an indoor throw of 72-2 1/4, according to the IAAF, the world's governing body of track and field.
Clarke's winning throw of 68-5 1/4 at the NCAA Indoor Championships ranks as the world's 14th best throw this season. It's the eighth-best qualifying mark at the Trails.
Qualifying in the men's shot put at the Olympics Trials is Saturday, with the eight-man finals set for Sunday.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.