With so much going on around him — a pole vault competition to his left, a long jump competition to his right and a full schedule of the best races the state had to offer on the surrounding oval, no one would have blamed Smithtown East high jumper Daniel Claxton if his head was spinning last Saturday at the state championships at Cornell.
But when the junior is in the zone, nothing going on around him matters much. It’s just he and the bar.
“The whole atmosphere at Cornell University is very intense,” Claxton said. “They’re a lot of other races going on. People are cheering and shouting, but I knew once I got up to mark, it was full focus.”
Claxton used that intensity to capture his first state championship, clearing 6 feet, 8 inches — four inches better than runner-up Troy Zanger of Port Jervis.
That bar hasn’t always been kind at state championship competitions for Claxton, who placed second to Floyd’s Hasani Rathan last winter.
“I knew that I had to get some redemption,” Claxton said, adding that he believed that Rathan, who had graduated, was one of the few people in the state who could beat him. “I thought it was my time. This year, I know that it is. I had that mentality the whole season.”
Even before last Saturday, Claxton was a big fan of the jumping surface at Cornell, describing it as having more “spring” than he’s used to.
“I just tend to do a lot better,” Claxton said. “Last year, I tied by personal best [at the time, it was 6-8]. This year, I was attempting another PR. I feel like I’ve been really consistent with my jumps.”
For Claxton, winning the title confirmed what the raw numbers already suggested; that he is the best high jumper in the state. His 6-10 clear at the Suffolk State Qualifier in February was the top mark in the state this season and broke the meet record of 6-9 1⁄4 set by Shoreham Wading River’s Pat McElroy in 1991, according to suffolkxctf.com.
Claxton will compete at the New Balance Nationals this weekend at the Armory in Manhattan.