Running man: Former AF star Casey Clinger excelling at BYU
Any time a track athlete is able to break a BYU record set by the great Connor Mantz, it is something to take note of.
That’s what former American Fork star Casey Clinger — now a Cougar junior — did in the 5,000-meter race at the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa, California on April 14, knocking more than a second off of the record set by Mantz in 2021. His time of 13:23.33 surpassed the previous record of 13:24.77.
But that was just part of the story.
You see, the former Caveman had just had to endure missing the entire indoor track season as he recovered from an Achilles injury.
“There’s been ups and downs for sure,” Clinger said Saturday at the Robison Invitational in Provo. “We decided to just focus on the outdoor season because you would rather have one really good season than two so-so ones. So I got healed up and then we played the long game, doing some workouts. Then I did the 10,000 and the 5,000 and set two personal records.”
He explained that coming back from an injury at the college level isn’t easy because every competitor is elite.
“It was definitely hard,” Clinger said. “Track is hard enough when you’re fully healthy, fully confident and consistent in your workouts. When you have setbacks, it’s tough. I really just relied on my teammates and my coach for support. Every one of us have setbacks and injuries. It was about getting support from them and just being patient. But it was rough watching the indoor track season, seeing all these records being broken and having the fastest meet of all time at the national meet. It was hard, but I’m just grateful to be healthy again.”
BYU track coach Ed Eyestone said he was confident Clinger was going to be strong when he got back with the team.
“One thing when you lose a season because of an injury, you may be a little more fresh for the following season,” Eyestone said. “That’s kind of what we are seeing now. Hopefully he can keep going all the way.”
Eyestone noted that the results have kind of spoken for themselves.
“The fact that he ran the fastest he has ever run in the 5,000 and then certainly did very well in the 10,000, shows where he is at,” Eyestone said. “He hasn’t done a whole lot of speed work but been more focused strength stuff. Now towards the end of the year we’ll work on the speed side of things.”
Clinger said that while he may not have done the 10,000 very often, he felt well prepared by Eyestone and the Cougar coaching staff.
“He is the master of the 10,000,” Clinger said. “There is no better coach. I’m excited to race it again one of these days.”
Clinger has his sights set on being at his best for the end of the year, which is why he focused on pacing at the Robison Invitational and is set to run the 1,500-meter race at Stanford next week.
“We just kind of have a few weeks and after that is regionals,” Clinger said. “I think we’ll have another home meet and whether I run or not depends on just how things are going. I think we’re looking at doing both the 10,000 and the 5,000 at regionals.”
He explained that coming around the final turn after a long race can result in wildly different sensations.
“When you’re really going for it and you’ve really given it everything you have, sometimes it’s almost like every force of nature is trying to pull you the other way,” Clinger said. “You’ve got the wind, the gravity, literally like everything possible feels like it is trying to not let you go forward. That’s how I feel sometimes. But then there’s some races where you just feel so awesome. You feel like someone’s pushing you right then. It just kind of depends on the day. Sometimes coming down the home stretch, feels really good and really rewarding.”
While Clinger wasn’t pushing himself at the Robison Invitational, other BYU athletes were. Despite having to deal with weather issues, the Cougars won 25 events at the meet.
“We were seeing really good performances all around,” Eyestone said. “There was probably more wind than we would’ve liked but our athletes are patient and adaptable. You just have to do the best you can in the conditions.”
One of the event highlights for BYU was javelin thrower Ashton Riner breaking her own school record twice, launching a throw of 60.36-meter (198-0.5 feet) on her final throw of the day. The Cougar women swept the podium in the pole vault with Cailee Faulkner getting the win followed by Rebekah Ross and Nikki Naatjes. Anastaysia Davis (4:56.25) and Aubrey Frentheway (4:56.50) placed first and second in the mile.
On the men’s side, BYU had the top four finishers in the mile, led by Aidan Troutner. The Cougars also won both the 4×100 and 4×400 relays.
Clinger said that he feels like being part of the BYU track team is a fantastic experience.
“It’s awesome,” Clinger said. “We’ve been doing so well. I think it just came out that we were ranked at No. 8 in the both men’s and women’s track. It just goes to show how awesome our coaches and this team is. It’s just fun to be a part of it. Everyone are just such hard workers and great people. I think there’s no better group of people to be around to help achieve your own goals.”
Eyestone said he sees a lot of things coming together for the team.
“I really think our long sprinters are coming along well and will be a factor at the national meet this year,” Eyestone said. “We’ve got some guys in the pole vault who will score points. We’re getting a good distribution of points in all of our event groups. You just want to put it all together. I think we’ll be in a good place heading into nationals.”