Clayton Young — NCAA champion

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Aaron Fitzner
Clayton Young holds his NCAA Championship trophies on the BYU outdoor track. Young received trophies for his first-place finish in the 10K and sixth-place finish in the 5K. (Aaron Fitzner)

2017: second-team All-American in the 5000-meter and All-American honorable mention in the 10,000-meter after taking 10th and 17th place, respectively.

2018: second-team All-American in the 5000-meter and honorable mention in the 10,000-meter after taking 12th and 23rd place, respectively.

2019: NCAA National Champion.

Clayton Young’s 2019 NCAA Championship title in the 10,000-meter has been years in the making. For years, he’s had the national championship in his sights, almost within literal reach, but couldn’t grasp the title on the biggest stage — the “big dance” as those around the NCAA call it.

“Previous to this NCAA’s indoors and outdoors, I was kind of notoriously known as being a choker,” Young said. “I remember as a sophomore in the 5k, I was leading the race in (regionals) and nationals and with 300 meters to go — I was going to be a national champion. I just got eaten up and spit out the back and I ended up taking 9th. That was a tactical error I had made in that race. The same thing happened as a junior.”

The 2019 national championships were a little different for Young and BYU. In the past, the long-distance field has been dominated by what the competition knows as “the ‘Bama boys” — three long-distance runners from Alabama that consistently dominate the races. This year, only one of the three runners from Alabama would see the 10,000-meter race at nationals while six BYU runners would participate.

“We did a lot of sauna training after our workouts where we would just sit in the sauna and get used to the heat and humidity because the race was in Austin, Texas,” Young said. “There were multiple times I would just be sitting there and be like, ‘you know what, guys? I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I feel like one of us is going to be a national champion.'”

Of the six participants, Young finished first. His teammates, Connor McMillan and Conner Mantz, also finished in the top 4. Gilbert Kigen, one of the “‘Bama Boys” finished second, while McMillan and Mantz finished third and fourth.

Clayton Young won the NCAA Division I National Championship with a final time of 29:16.60 in the 10,000-meter event. (Aaron Fitzner)

“One of the coolest moments that I had is when I did cross that finish line. Yes, I was the individual national champion, but then to turn around and to see Connor McMillan coming in third and Conner Mantz coming in fourth, and to realize that we had done something that has only been done a few times in history — scoring 21 points — that’s right up there with Stanford, with Oregon and UTEP, some great programs. It was joy in my individual success, but far greater joy in seeing my teammates’ success as well.”

When thinking about nationals, there are specific people that stand out to Young. He mentioned that he loves his coaches, his teammates and his training staff. He said two people in particular come to his mind in a much larger way — his wife Ashley and his six-month-old daughter, Lucy.

Before nationals, coach Diljeet Taylor handed a card to Young. On the back of the card, it read, “#lastbigdanceforLucy.” This was a big motivation for Young who said that he used it to help push him to his ultimate goal.

“That’s a big motivator,” Young said. “I do run for Lucy and for Ashley.”

Before Young races, Ashley meets him on the final stretch of the track to share a moment with him. He said this moment helps them realize what he is running for and what is to come for their family.

“Before you go out on the track, they’re doing all their clerking and making sure your numbers are right, and then you walk onto the track and do some strides,” Young said. “Ashley always meets me on the 100-meter to go stretch. She’ll be in the stands, and I’ll lean over the rail and give her a big hug, and she’ll say ‘good luck out there.’ We have this moment of us realizing where we’re at and what’s to come.”

After years of breaking records during regular season meets — including BYU and venue records — Young finally made the most of his opportunity as a senior on the biggest of stages. Young’s new title of 2019 NCAA Division I 10,000-meter National Champion came in his last meet as a BYU athlete. Young also finished sixth place in the 5000-meter event.

Now a national champion, Young looks to take the next step in his life. He plans to attend graduate school for engineering while progressing towards his ultimate goal of becoming an Olympic runner. A good resume is required in order to become an Olympic runner, and “NCAA National Champion” is a pretty impressive qualification.

Clayton Young is the first BYU track and field national champion in the 10,000-meter event since track and field coach Ed Eyestone won the event in 1985. (Aaron Fitzner)
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