Tequan Claitt showed up at Eastern Kentucky University a year and a half ago hoping to play some football.
This week, the Bryan Station High School graduate is one of the best high jumpers in the world.
Claitt, a multi-sport athlete for the Defenders during his days in Lexington, is fully focused now on track and field, and it became clear Saturday he’s found his calling.
The EKU sophomore leapt 7 feet, 5 3/4 inches during Western Kentucky University’s Hilltopper Relays in Bowling Green, shattering the Colonels’ 35-year-old school record. The jump is tied for second best in the world this year. Claitt, who arrived at Eastern Kentucky as a football walk-on, is so new to the party that his name was misspelled Monday on the IAAF leaderboard that lists the top jumps in the world.
“I am truly thankful,” Claitt said. “I have been working really hard.”
Claitt said he began the day by competing in the long jump. That, and some nice weather in Bowling Green, combined to create a perfect storm.
“I was feeling good the week before in preparation for the meet,” he said. “I was feeling good the day of the meet. And I like competing when the weather is nice. I started the meet with the long jump and that kind of loosened my body up, and by the time high jump came, I was ready.”
Claitt’s jump Saturday was the highest by any athlete in the NCAA this young outdoor season, surpassing the 7-4 1/4 by Texas Tech All-American Trey Culver and the 7-3 by defending national champion Randall Cunningham of Southern California at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays on March 29.
Cunningham, the son of the former NFL quarterback of the same name, won the 2016 NCAA outdoor championship with a jump of 7-4 1/2 , a leap Claitt has already exceeded by more than an inch.
Claitt broke the Eastern Kentucky school record of 7-5 set by Ken Glover in 1982. Glover was the NCAA runner-up in the high jump that year.
Claitt just missed out on qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Championships as a freshman last year, when he won the OVC indoor and outdoor championships in the high jump. His personal best in 2016 was 7-1 1/2 , which he recorded with a taped-together shoe at the OVC meet. He finished 16th in the NCAA East Regional with a leap of 6-11 3/4 .
How was Claitt able to raise his personal best more than 4 inches in less than year?
“I truly developed a better mindset,” he said. “And my family has really stayed with me and helped me with my work ethic.”
I would love to have a chance at the Olympics. Even though it’s a really good honor to be second in the world, it would be amazing to be first.
Claitt, who said both of his parents attended EKU, said he noticed he had a talent for jumping in the eighth grade. He played football and basketball in high school in addition to competing in track. After his breakout track and field season as an EKU freshman, he decided to give up football. He was voted OVC Male Indoor and Outdoor Freshman of the Year last spring.
Now, he has new goals.
“I would love to have a chance at the Olympics,” he said. “Even though it’s a really good honor to be second in the world, it would be amazing to be first.”
Claitt has made an incredible leap quickly. He said now is no time to stop.
“I’m still going to take every meet I compete in as a chance to get better. I’m not done yet. … I’ll try to keep pushing forward and being the best athlete I can be.”
The world’s best
The 10 best high jumps in the world in 2017 (in meters):
2.30 — Talles Frederico Silva (Brazil)
2.28 — Jinqi Guo (China)
2.28 — Derek Drouin (Canada)
2.28 — Tequan Claitt (United States)
2.26 —Vernon Turner (United States)
2.25 — Nauraj Singh Randhawa (Malaysia)
2.24 — Trey Culver (United States)
2.24 —Hup Wei Lee (Malaysia)
2.23 —Jamal Wilson (Bahamas)
2.23 — Mike Edwards (Great Britain)