Kerron Clement cleared a space in his trophy case and wrote a little note on what would occupy that spot next: “Gold Medal, 2016.”
The American 400-meter hurdler was that confident.
So confident, in fact, that his mom, Claudette, packed the family’s own American flag and brought it to Rio de Janeiro. You know, just for this moment when he actually won gold.
“I knew I was going to win,” said Clement, who finished in 47.73 seconds and held off Boniface Mucheru Tumuti of Kenya by 0.05 seconds. “I came out here with one mindset: Get a gold medal.”
When he returns home to Gainesville, Florida, he won’t have to worry about finding a spot for Olympic gold medal No. 2 _ he made the room for it in January. This gold will pair nicely with the one he earned at the 2008 Beijing Games as part of the 4×400 relay team. He also earned a silver in Beijing in the 400 hurdles.
Some might be superstitious about planning for a win before it happens. Not Clement.
“I’m a Scorpio once I set my mind, I’m going to get it, regardless,” he said. “I knew I was going to get that gold medal. I was sticking to that plan. Nothing or no one was going to stop me from achieving that.”
And to think, he almost stopped himself. Clement was struggling with his passion for the hurdles after the 2013 world championships. He needed a break.
Although he trained in 2014, he tried his best to stay away from the hurdles. He went on a vacation to the Dominican Republic with friends while the U.S. held its championships that year. The only caveat on the trip: No track talk.
“I hit the refocus button,” said Clement, who won the 400 hurdles at the worlds championships in 2007 and `09. “Honestly, when I came back (in 2015), I found a new love for the hurdles … having a new mindset, new goals for the second chapter of my career, which is now.”
The buzz surrounding Clement in recent days hasn’t so much been his performance on the track, but, rather, his cameo a few years ago in a Beyoncé video, “Run the World (Girls).”
That was fun. Thursday was a show stopper.
He credits his top-notch form to better health _ he’s all the way back from hernia surgery in 2012 _ and to turning himself into more of a student of his race.
“When I was younger, I used to run and make silly mistakes,” Clement explained. “Now, I’m wiser.”
Wise enough not to panic with the field gaining on him down the backstretch _ a field that was without Javier Culson, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist from Puerto Rico, who was disqualified for a false start.
Clement’s legs were burning with the finish line in sight and he thought about diving toward it.
Not necessary. A well-timed lean did the trick.
“Technically, it was a perfect race,” said Clement, who wears a “Test me, I’m clean” bracelet to demonstrate his disdain for doping. “I just focused on the 10 hurdles in my lane. I fought the last 100 meters. I knew the guys would be coming. I dug down deeper. I knew the guy from Kenya was coming.”
Bronze medalist Yasmani Copello saw big things for himself, too also thanks to his mom.
“Last night, she sent me a message, `I dream you’re going to be big,”’ explained Copello, who was born in Cuba and now competes for Turkey. “I woke with that thought. I carry her in my heart.”
Clement knows the feeling. That’s why it meant a lot to him when he worked his way toward the stands and his mother handed him the flag.
“She just smiled,” Clement said. “I love seeing my mom smile. She’s going to cry when she sees me on the podium.”