ALBANY — This was always supposed to be the year.
Instead, that year turned out to be 2016.
So, instead, Grace Claxton is tuning up for this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo as a veteran of the Games, with her latest training taking place back on the campus where she starred as a UAlbany track and field competitor.
“My goal was to make it in 2020, but I guess God had other plans for me,” Claxton said Monday as she prepared to work out on the university’s outdoor track. “This year, I’m extremely excited. I’m looking forward to it.”
Now 26 years old, Claxton still was a student at UAlbany when she represented Puerto Rico at the Rio Games, at which she made it to the semifinals in the women’s 400-meter hurdles. Claxton “wasn’t prepared” for the stage she reached as a 22-year-old, but has no regrets about her first Olympic competition played out.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Claxton, who grew up in San Juan. “I had fun. It was a beautiful experience.”
And it’s one from which she is looking to grow as she nears a return to the Games. Forty-eight women will qualify for this year’s 400 hurdles, and Claxton ranks No. 42 among potential qualifiers with several months to go. Rather than looking to hold onto her spot, though, Claxton is looking to surge up the rankings after dealing with minor injuries in the last couple years.
“This year, I’m ready,” Claxton said. “I’m faster. I’m stronger. Everything is coming together perfectly.”
An automatic qualifying standard for her solo event — Claxton could also compete in the 1,600 meter relay — is 55.4 seconds, while her career-best mark is 55.85. Claxton will head to Orlando in a few days to continue her training among peers, and plans to reach that standard before too long.
“I know I’m going to hit it,” said Claxton, who set several program records during a distinguished UAlbany career that saw her win a dozen conference championships and twice earn All-American status.
Beyond this year’s Olympics, Claxton is less certain about what awaits her. A break is planned, but it’s possible she could delay that — “Let’s see how life goes” — in favor of continuing to train and compete.
“I don’t really have a time limit, but, eventually, I would like to take a break, have a little family because I am getting older — you know, I’ve got to get a little baby — and then come back. I’d want to come back.
“I love running,” Claxton added, “and don’t want to give it up.”
Break or no break, trying to qualify for the 2024 Olympics is on Claxton’s to-do list, too. That will require more years of hard work, but the thought of going through them encourages her more than anything else.
“It is really tough. It takes time. A lot of patience,” Claxton said. “But if you really love it, you don’t stress that much.”