The American 400m hurdler put years of injuries behind him to take Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro
Kerron Clement fulfilled a lifelong ambition at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 by winning the Olympic 400m hurdles title. The American athlete’s journey has been long and far from straightforward – but dedication and patience won out over injury in the end.
Don’t be discouraged
Clement’s career got off to a spectacular start in 2005 when, aged just 19, he set a world indoor 400m record that still stands today. He went on to win four gold medals at the 2007 and 2009 World Championships, plus 4x400m relay gold and individual 400m hurdle silver at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008. But after 2009, Clement’s career was blighted by injury – and it wasn’t always easy to stay positive.
“It’s very hard when you have an injury,” Clement admits. “Everyone thinks it’s the end of the world. But you get injured – that’s part of the sport, and when it happens you can’t be discouraged. You just have to get proper treatment, get your rest, and make sure you’re drinking a lot of fluids.”
Clement’s 2012 Olympic cycle stands as evidence of his dedication. The hurdler injured his groin at the 2011 World Championships, a year before the Games. He rested and recovered, but then suffered a similar injury in February 2012. Clement needed two surgeries – so for him even to qualify for London felt like a triumph.
“I was not 100 per cent at London 2012, but I was fortunate enough to make the final after having major surgery several months before – so finishing in eighth place, to me, was like winning a million dollars.
“And during that process, I learned to be patient. An injury is not permanent. You’ve just got to have patience and know that things will get better.”
The years leading up to the Olympic Games Rio 2016 were similarly difficult for Clement.
“From 2009 to 2016, it was very tough having injury after injury, and not knowing my future. There was a point where I asked myself, ‘Should I stop running?’”
Clement even took time off from the track in 2014, “I learned to love the sport again. I was away, I didn’t look at any [athletics] on TV, and I didn’t see any results. But I started missing the sport. I wanted to start running again.
“I just kept believing that each year it’d get better. And in 2015, I saw a little light. When I finished fourth [at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing], I saw I was getting closer to the podium and to my breakthrough. And in 2016, the breakthrough came.”
That breakthrough, of course, was Olympic gold in his chosen individual event, the 400m hurdles.
“Everyone is human and when stuff is not going your way, you have a little disappointment and you think, ‘Is it time to stop?’ But I think that’s why I am a champion – because I don’t give up. You have to keep fighting regardless of the circumstances.”