Series20 May 2017

That moment when… Clement finally became Olympic champion


US 400m hurdler Kerron Clement (© Getty Images)

US 400m hurdler Kerron Clement talks about the moment he won a long-awaited gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.



“Winning gold in Rio was the moment when I realised I fulfilled the dreams I had been working towards my whole career. When I crossed that line, and I knew I had finally won that elusive Olympic gold medal, it meant so much to me. It was the icing on the cake and the moment I had longed for.

“I remember at my first Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 I finished second in the 400m hurdles. For many people, winning silver would be a major accomplishment, but for me that wasn’t enough. I had won the world title leading into Beijing and I just didn’t feel complete winning silver.

In London 2012 it was a major achievement for me to simply qualify for the team having undergone surgery in February that year. Yet I always thought one day – even after suffering a slump of several seasons – I would have my breakthrough. And that moment arrived in Rio.

“At the 2015 World Championships in Beijing I felt I was edging closer to achieving my goals. I finished fourth in the Bird’s Nest Stadium – just 0.01 behind bronze medallist Jeffery Gibson of The Bahamas. It was really exciting to come so close to the medals.  

“From that moment on, I knew 2016 would be an amazing year. Later that year I started watching some older footage of me racing and I noticed I was really skinny back then. It was at that moment I decided to go on a very strict diet to lose some weight. I ate a lot of greens and cut back on the carbs. I had no juices and only drank water with my only goal to win Olympic gold.

“Once in Rio, I adopted a different attitude. Normally as soon as I land in the country, I am in the zone. I like to be by myself and secluded from everyone else before I race. This time, though, I decided to have fun. I spent time with teammates, I watched the Olympic table tennis competition and I decided to be merry.

“This more carefree mind-set put me in a relaxed state of mind ahead of my competition.

“I had a bad race in the heat and finished third, but I made it through to the semi-finals. I did not waver from my goal, and my coach, Mike Holloway, said to me afterwards, ‘are you ready to run now?’ I ran a much better semi-final, winning in 48.26.

“The final took place in the morning session, which was unusual for a major championship final. Yet I told myself not to worry. I train at 11am every morning anyway, it is just like practice for me.

“I don’t normally remember all my races but the Rio Olympic final I remember from start to finish. I ran that race in perfect tunnel vision. Everything clicked.

“I knew I was in the lead from 200 metres and I just had to continue what I was doing. When I crossed the line, it was like, ‘oh my God, I’ve done it’.

“The final took place on 18 August but the realisation of what I’d achieved didn’t sink in until the end of the season when I was flying back home to the US after the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich. It was on that plane, when I reflected on the entire season, I started to weep like a baby. I had achieved so much in 2016. I won Olympic gold, I was ranked No.1 in the world and I had won the Diamond Trophy.

“To achieve this after so many setbacks and injuries over the previous five years, I was overwhelmed.”

Steve Landells for the IAAF