Kansas track and field coach Stanley Redwine says the key moment for Kyle Clemons came in 2012.
The 400-meter specialist competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing 23rd in the first round. That was the same year teammate Diamond Dixon was fifth on the women’s side, putting her on the 1,600-meter relay team that later won gold.
“I think Kyle kind of woke up,” Redwine said. “He thought if Diamond could be there, he could be there.”
Clemons made the most of this year’s opportunity, finishing sixth in July’s U.S. trials and earning a spot on the 1,600 relay team.
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The former KU athlete — he was with the Jayhawks from 2010-13 — admits his mind-set changed with experience. In 2012, he was “happy to just make the trials.” This year, he was there for a greater purpose.
“I refocused, and coach Redwine got me where I needed to be,” Clemons said. “For the past three years, ever since my senior year, I thought, ‘Hey, I could go pro. I could go to the Olympics if I really work hard and stay focused.’ ”
It’s already been a life-changing experience. Clemons participated in the opening ceremonies and tweeted photos and videos, with one post showing fireworks above the stadium with the words, “Had chills the whole night.”
His role on the relay team is an interesting one. Clemons — a Rowlett, Texas native — has been all but assured that he will run in the first-round race on Aug. 19, which would allow two of the top U.S. runners to not overexert themselves while also competing in the individual 400. He says coaches typically tell athletes a day or two before the race which leg they will run.
“You just have to be ready for anything,” Clemons said.
If Team USA advances, it will compete in the finals on Aug. 20. Clemons is unlikely to be a part of that race, as teammates with faster qualifying times are expected to compete for the title.
The Americans are looking for some redemption. In 2012, Bahamas pulled off an upset victory in an event that had been won by the United States in six of the previous seven Olympics.
“This is a different crew,” Clemons said, “but it’s always just the same goal.”
Clemons says one of the highlights of getting this far has been the response he’s gotten from friends. Many of them watched him run during the U.S. trials, taking cell-phone pictures of their TVs before sending messages his way. It took Clemons a few days to respond to everyone.
He also received congratulations from Dixon, who texted to say she was proud of his accomplishment.
“Just being able to go to the Olympics, that’s just a huge blessing. Extremely grateful,” Clemons said. “It’s just like the icing on the cake to everything I’ve done.”