28 August 2021
Visually impaired distance runner Jaryd Clifford began 2021 by ‘accidently’ breaking the marathon world record, and he's now looking to take the year up another level with his quest for gold in Tokyo.
The Tokyo Games will be the second Paralympics for Clifford, who made his debut as a 17-year-old in Rio. He has spent the majority of his preparations at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), after COVID-19 lockdowns saw him relocate from Melbourne to Canberra in mid-2020 to train with coach Philo Saunders, also an AIS physiologist.
“I wouldn't be the person I am today, let alone the runner I am today, without having been able to work with Philo,” Clifford said.
“Especially in the lead up to such a big moment, Philo's not only a coach and a training partner and a guide, but he's also a best mate. I think that’s what you want in a high performance, high pressure environment. And it reflects on our squad. Our squad is like a massive family.
“My results in Tokyo are only possible because of the work Philo's done for myself and I'm sure my teammates would say the same thing.”
Clifford has certainly gone from strength to strength since making the change, including breaking the marathon world record in April. Clifford only entered the Tokyo Games qualifying marathon in Sydney to pace teammate Michael Roeger, but on the urging of Saunders, he not only completed what was his first ever marathon, he did it in a world record time of 2:19:08.
The time was almost two and a half minutes off the previous world record set by El Amin Chentouf of Morocco in 2015. In more good news, Roeger also broke the world record in his class, meaning the teammates both qualified for the distance in Tokyo.
In addition to the marathon, Clifford will also be running in the T13 5000m and 1500m, both events of which he is the reigning two-time world champion.
Clifford’s journey to Tokyo has taken plenty of dedication, including spending 14 hours a day for three weeks in the AIS Altitude House with other members of the Para-distance team, including Roeger.
Altitude House is an immersive specialist training house designed to imitate a high-altitude, low-oxygen atmosphere, and supports the ‘live high, train low’ principle by enabling athletes to sleep and relax at altitude while training at sea level. It’s been utilised by athletes from cycling, rowing, kayaking, triathlon, athletics.
Of his preparation at the AIS, Clifford said: “I was given the opportunity to join my squad in Canberra at the AIS pretty much exactly a year until the Paralympics. That opportunity was amazing because it's probably completely defined my preparation. It’s probably going to be the thing that gets me to the start line in Tokyo in the best shape possible.”