The number was magic, elusive, and frustrating — seemingly all at once. The bar taunted Smithtown East’s Daniel Claxton, a reachable goal, so close he could visualize it and yet far enough that it plagued him.
But, through every misstep and every ‘almost,’ his faith in the promise of a happy ending never wavered. He would get there. It would happen. He just knew it would.
And then it did.
Claxton, the best high jumper in the country and the defending indoor state champion, finally cleared 7 feet at the Ocean Breeze Invitational at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island on Jan. 28.
Seven feet was Claxton’s stated goal at the beginning of the season. The height has become somewhat of a holy grail in the jumping community. He was the first jumper in the state to clear the height since James Blocker of August Martin High School, the now defunct Queens school, did it in 2005, according to milesplit.com.
“I was up for my third attempt and when I got the clearance, the entire stadium erupted,” Claxton recalled. “Everyone was on their feet screaming and clapping and cheering. When I got on the mat and realized that I had just done it, I screamed really loud. I was insanely happy. A bunch of people were screaming they were happy for me. I got a lot of hugs and high-fives. It was definitely a magical moment.”
The jump tied North Babylon’s Lloyd Constable’s 1981 Suffolk record, according to suffolkxctf.com.
“It’s a huge honor,” Claxton said. “Especially looking back at all the high jumpers and see that we’ve had a lot of successful New York high jumpers in the past. To be above a lot of them statistically is honorable.”
While Claxton dominated Suffolk competition this season, he still found himself frustrated with his inability to ‘pop’ the perfect jump. It was never just one singular thing that kept 7 feet at a distance. Sometimes, it was his approach.
“Usually, when you do your approach, you run straight and then do the curves, which [looks like] a ‘J,’ ” he said. “When I was doing my curve, part of it I was running in a straight line sometimes. Sometimes, I wasn’t leaning and I would be standing straight up.”
Other times, it was his footwork
“My foot placement was off in comparison to where I wanted my body momentum to travel,” he said.
But he never lost faith.
“Constantly missing 7 feet again and again was very frustrating,” Claxton said. “But I knew it was going to happen and I just needed that one perfect jump, and it could have happened any time.”
Claxton was excited about the prospect of jumping at Ocean Breeze for the first time. He had heard great things about the two-year-old facility that will host the state championships March 4.
The shiny new building allows the use of spikes and features a very fast running surface. Both factors are incredibly advantageous to jumpers.
“The faster you can do your approach, as long as you can control your speed, the more momentum you’ll have to convert to your vertical,” Claxton said.
This, along with an influx of prime competition — Pennsylvania’s Kyle Garland, who is the second best high jumper in the country, finished second after clearing 6-10 — allowed for all the technical troubles that had been ailing him to wash away.
“For some reason, it all started to click and everything started to go back to normal at a great time,” Claxton said.
Now that the ‘big seven’ has been conquered, Claxton can focus on new goals — like defending his state championship next month and, both literally and figuratively, raising the bar higher. He continued his impressive season by clearing 6-9 to win the Suffolk Large School Championship on Saturday.