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Isaiah Claiborne

Twin talks the double win, push to best his brother Isaiah, following in footsteps of twins of years past

Elijah Claiborne celebrates after checking the scoreboard to confirm his first-place finish in the 800-meter run. Photo from Section XI

Elijah Claiborne has always come second, but this time, the state meet was his stage to shine on.

Elijah Claiborne crosses the 1,600-meter finish line with ease. Photo from Northport athletics

The senior has fallen short to his twin brother Isaiah, and, like at the state indoor meet, to Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed. Instead of the close finishes deterring the senior from the sport, they’ve motivated him to work harder. Even though his older brother opted out of the state outdoor championships to attend the Brooks PR meet, spectators were still seeing double. Claiborne placed first in the 800 in 1 minute, 52.33 seconds, and first in the 1,600 in 4:10.01.

“Things went perfectly,” Claiborne said. “After not qualifying last year I really wanted this. [Isaiah] has always been better than me and I’ve closed the gap between me and him. My goal is to beat him or run a faster time than him whenever I get the chance. He’s always my driving factor.”

His other motivator was falling just milliseconds behind Ahmed this past March.

“I changed my race strategy and I started trying a lot harder during practice,” he said. “I stopped skipping runs and focused more on how I execute race plans and getting myself prepared.”

Elijah Claiborne is congratulated by a fellow runner after the 800-meter run. Photo from Section XI

Head coach Jason Strom has seen his runner’s struggles and said what Claiborne did at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8 and 9 was the most incredible performance he has seen at states. The senior was also part of the 4×800 relay with senior Dan O’Connor, junior Sean Ryan and sophomore Thomas Fodor clocked in a photo-finish second place to St. Anthony’s (7:45.78), finishing in 7:45.79.

“He’s had a hard time gaining the respect he deserves because his brother has been a notch faster than him — he’s been second-best even in his own house,” the 12-year Northport coach said of Claiborne. “It was nice for him to have his day to shine, have all eyes on him, and realize the top runner in the state that he is. His athletic ability and talent in the sport is through the roof, and he’s nowhere near his ceiling yet.”

Claiborne said he and his brother were always compared to previous Northport twin track stars Jack and Tim McGowan. The sets of twins have a unique relationship, and their connection will grow when the four become teammates at Pennsylvania State University next year.

“They’re the ones that recruited me,” Claiborne said. “Isaiah and I have always been compared to them, and I’ve always tried to beat their times year after year. It’s created some friendly competition.”

He said he also chose Penn State because he immediately felt at home.

Elijah Claiborne stands atop the 800-meter run podium after his first-place finish. Photo from Northport athletics

“The way they treated us we already felt like members of the team,” he said. “They were all very nice, the facility is very nice. I just felt amazing when I visited, and I’ve always wanted to go to a big school like that. I couldn’t be happier.”

Strom said he always saw potential in Claiborne. The runner competed for soccer and wrestling teams as a freshman, and used his time on the track team to stay in shape. 

After seeing his brother quit wrestling to take on track year-round as a sophomore, he followed suit the next year.

“Coach took me in and built me up to be the best I can be,” Claiborne said. “I’ve made my greatest friends through track. Being a Northport Tiger, it’s been a great four years. I’m just grateful for my teammates, and I’m going to miss them next year.”

He admitted his permanent move to the track team was motivated by his brother’s fast rise to stardom.

“I saw how good he got, and I didn’t want my brother to get better than me, so I joined the team full-time,” Claiborne said. “My brother, how good he got, I wanted to be that great too.”

Now, he is.

Northport’s Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne. Photo from Twitter

Northport senior distance runner Elijah Claiborne isn’t showing signs of slowing down. His 4 minute, 11.47 second finish in the 1,600-meter run earned him first place at the Suffolk County track and field individual championship/state qualifier June 2 and 3 at Comsewogue High School.

Huntington hurdler Jonathan Smith. Photo by Mike Connell

He will compete with other winners in the state championship at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8 and 9.

Claiborne had come in second in a photo finish in the indoor state track and field finals this past March with Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed. The Northport runner’s indoor time had been seconds slower than his outdoor (4:15.548).

The half of Northport’s twin brother power duo also placed first in the 800, clocking in at 1:54.06. Isaiah Claiborne came in second in the 400 dash in 49.71.

Other Tigers took home top spots during the weekend-long meet. Senior Dan O’Connor finished third in 3,200 run in 9:40.92. Junior Sean Ryan placed fourth in the 1,600, crossing the finish line in 4:18.47, and classmate Sydney Rohme placed first in girls pentathlon with a school record-breaking 3,263 points.

Huntington thrower Clay Jamison. Photo by Mike Connell

Huntington also had multiple track and field athletes excel with career days.

Huntington senior Clay Jamison came in second in the shot put with a 51-0.25 toss. The throw ties him for the top spot in the county (across all divisions) with Commack’s Steven Vasile.

Huntington junior Jonathan Smith placed second in the 400 hurdles in 55.17. He caught up to the pack in the final turn and passed Bellport’s Kyler Pizzo and Comsewogue’s Travis Colon down the stretch to claim his first individual county crown.

Smith also placed fourth in the long jump with a 21-2 leap.

Huntington’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams finished third, and junior Keily Rivas came in third in the 1,500 race-walk in 6:52.33.

Teams up with twin brother Elijah, Dan O'Connor and Thomas Fodor to take first in 4x800 relay

Isaiah Claiborne crosses the 1,000-meter run finish line at the state championships March 3. Photo from MileSplit

Isaiah Claiborne could see his Fairport foe hot on his trail. Like last year, the 1,000-meter run came down to a final lap sprint, but midway through it, Claiborne kicked it into high gear and never looked back. The Northport senior crossed the finish line in a state-championship winning 2 minutes, 26.95 seconds at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island March 3.

“A week ago my arm was too locked up and I knew I needed to work on that,” Claiborne said. “Today, I got out and I just wanted to be fast, especially since I was on the outside. I didn’t want to be slow to get stuck behind. I left it all on the track.”

Elijah Claiborne comes in a photo-finish second place in the 1,600-meter run. Photo from MileSplit

After leading early in the race, Claiborne fell into third place, but worked his way back into prime position. With 150 meters left, and the field looking like it might leave him behind, he made the move that made all the difference. His time was a new school record and second-best in New York State. It also set a new meet record, breaking Liam Purdy of North Rockland’s 2014 mark of 2:27.63.

“It’s awesome to come out here and win among big competition,” Claiborne said. “I tried to stay relaxed, make it my own race and not get too nervous. My coach says stay composed, stay relaxed, and that’s what I did.”

Of three sets of twins in contention to sweep events at states, Claiborne’s twin brother Elijah was closest to making it happen. Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed got in the way though, maintaining his lead to the end line to come through with a photo-finish win. The two runners completed the 1,600 in 2:15.543 and 2:15.548 in a race where no one person stayed in first for long.

Northport’s 4×800 relay team of twin brothers Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne, Dan O’Connor and Thomas Fodor were crowned public school state champs. Photo from NYSPHSAA

“After just missing placing at states last year, I used that emotion to propel me toward the finish line.” Ahmed said. “I knew the race was going to be tight — anybody had a chance to win. I stayed with the pack and kicked fast at the end.”

Babylon’s Vlad Cullinane, who has been the top high jumper in the state all season, made it official by clearing six feet, seven inches. Shoreham-Wading River’s Richard Casazza was second, clearing 6-6.

“I was battling with [Casazza] all season and we were inches away from each other,” Cullinane said. “Every time I saw him miss, it felt pretty good. I was working on my form, and it feels great to beat him again.”

Northport’s 4×800 relay quartet of Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne, Dan O’Connor and Thomas Fodor were also public school state champions, completing the event in 7:56.52. The same team minus Fodor, finished first in the outdoor state championship last year.

“I don’t like going head-to-head,” Isaiah Claiborne joked. “My guys always give me a gap so I don’t have to worry about it.”

He and the rest of his relay team will compete at New Balance Indoor Nationals March 9-11 at the Armory Track in New York City.

“I won’t think about it too much,” Claiborne said heading into this weekend. “I’m definitely confident, and I’m going to take it all in.”

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