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Anchorage shot-putter Clarke grabs his 4th NCAA title

Beth Bragg
April L. Brown

Anchorage shot putter Jordan Clarke suffered in winning his latest national championship.

Competing with an injured throwing hand, Clarke captured his fourth national shot put championship Friday at the NCAA Division I indoor track and field championships in Fayetteville, Ark.

The victory is Clarke's third straight at the indoor championships. Last year he also claimed the NCAA outdoor championship, and he is favored to duplicate that achievement this spring.

Despite an injured index finger that compromised his training and flared up Friday between the preliminaries and the finals, Clarke, a senior at Arizona State, won with a throw of 67 feet, 3.25 inches. He beat runnerup Kole Weldon of Texas Tech by more than a foot.

"I'm not 100 percent healthy right now," Clarke said in a phone interview. "My training has not been ideal, but I've still had a very productive indoor season."

Clarke said the injury is nerve related, possibly compressed nerves. The 16-pound shot rolls off his index finger every time he throws, and between the force of the throwing motion and the weight of the implement, each throw is painful.

"It's just a lot of pain," he said. "And today I kind of irritated it a bit. ... I was taking warm-up throws between preliminaries and finals and on the first one, I caught it pretty bad.

"Anti-inflammatories take a little of the edge off, but I still have a good amount of pain."

The victory sends Clarke into the outdoor season with a chance to make NCAA history. If he can repeat as the outdoor shot put champion, he would become the second person to win five straight championships in the event. Karl Salb of Kansas won six straight from 1969-71.

While Clarke isn't making any predictions about the outdoor season, he is hopeful he'll be healthy soon so he can take aim at a fifth title -- and the elusive 70-foot barrier that he'd love to break.

"Two years ago, or even last year for that matter, I was more focused on trying to get another title or get my first title," he said. "Now it's kinda like I know that if I throw the way I should, that will most likely get me a title. But at this point in my collegiate career, if I can get to 100 percent I have a good chance of breaking 70 feet."

A 2008 graduate of Bartlett, Clarke's personal-best throw came at last year's indoor championships, when he won with a throw of 68-5.25.

Clarke's win gives Arizona State nine shot put titles in the last 11 NCAA championships, both outdoor and indoor. Ryan Whiting, now graduated, won five shot put titles, although he didn't win them consecutively.

Clarke, 22, is the Alaska high school record-holder in the event whose record of 71-3 has never been approached. That effort came with the 12-pound shot used in high school. In college and beyond, the shot weighs 16 pounds.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com