Second in a series
Anchorage's Jordan Clarke is among the best on the planet at his job, and yet his global standing comes with a considerable caveat – he still faces a tough path to the Rio Olympics.
Welcome to the complicated life of an elite American men's shot putter.
Clarke in 2015 was ranked No. 7 in the world on the International Association of Athletics Federations' performance list and ranked No. 8 in the world by Track & Field News, the self-proclaimed Bible of the sport.
Still, the Bartlett High graduate slotted in at No. 3 among Americans on the IAAF list and No. 5 among Americans in the Track & Field News rankings.
Only the top three finishers in the men's shot put Friday at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, will qualify for the Games in Brazil in August.
"It's exceedingly difficult,'' said Clarke, 25. "With the Olympic qualifying standard (20.50 meters, or 67 feet, 3.25 inches), in most countries, if you hit that distance once, you're basically in the Olympics.
"For us, we have so much depth – we've got 12 or 13 guys who have thrown the standard – I pretty much have to beat the top throwers in the world to make the team. That's a lot of pressure. You have to have a great day on that day.''
Clarke, a four-time NCAA champion at Arizona State and Alaska's prep shot put and discus record-holder, already owns the Olympic qualifying standard. His personal-best of 70-6.25 (21.49 meters) came at the U.S. national championships last June in Eugene, and sent him to the World Championships in China, where he finished 13th. This season, he ranks No. 5 among Americans.
David Dumble, the Arizona State throws coach who remains Clarke's coach, said Clarke has prepared well for the Trials.
"He's in a good spot,'' Dumble said. "He's going into it confident and knowing what he needs to do. He has a chance to make the team.''
Americans have won at least one medal in men's shot put in eight consecutive Olympics, and the current pool of throwers in the U.S. makes the event arguably the country's deepest in track and field.
"The top six or seven throwers, they all have a legitimate chance to make the team,'' said Dumble, who also coaches Ryan Whiting, Clarke's training partner and former ASU teammate. "The depth is amazing.''
Clarke trains in Mesa, Arizona, where he lives with his wife, Kelli, a former Sun Devils swimmer he calls his "rock.'' He's a full-time professional athlete, sponsored by Nike, but "by no means am I rolling in dough.'' Clarke figures 80 percent of his income last year came from prize money and bonuses.
He competes internationally. This season, he's competed in Shanghai. Last season, he threw at Diamond League events in Rome and Monaco – Diamond League meets draw the world's best athletes — and at the world championships in Beijing.
But those itineraries weren't jet-setting tourist trips for the 6-foot-4, 320-pounder.
"I get to travel, see the world, do what I do – it's awesome,'' Clarke said. "(But) when I go to those meets, it's business. I have to perform. You're not there for vacation. You're there for a competition.''
Clarke owns Trials experience too. He finished eighth in 2012.
His life centers around training, bouncing between weightlifting work in the gym and throwing sessions outside, often training in the early mornings and early evenings to escape the harshest of the Arizona heat. Clarke said he is vigilant about sleep – eight hours is perfect – and diet. He consumes about 4,000 calories per day, spread across five or six meals, and says he's pretty handy on the grill. When he did his taxes this year, he said he calculated he spent $7,000 on food in 2015.
Throw in physical therapy, massage, stretching and occasionally working with a sports psychologist, and Clarke's days are full as the Trials approach.
"I try to keep things simple, stick to what I know,'' he said. "And the biggest thing is to keep my body as healthy as possible and my mind as clear as possible.
"For me now, it's mostly just about fine-tuning my throwing.''
And hoping to deliver a great day on the big day.