Can South Hadley’s Jonas Clarke break the 100m dash state record?

  • South Hadley junior Jonas Clarke posted the fastest 100-meter dash time in Massachusetts high school track this season. His 10.45-second sprint is .05 off the state record. He'll compete at the Division 2 Central/West Championships on Saturday in Lunenburg. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • South Hadley junior Jonas Clarke posted the fastest 100-meter dash time in Massachusetts high school track this season. His 10.45-second sprint is .05 off the state record. He'll compete at the Division 2 Central/West Championships this weekend in Lunenburg. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2021 6:06:52 PM

No one could catch Jonas Clarke during elementary school tag. He was rarely “it.”

Defenders couldn’t keep up on the soccer pitch, either.

“Growing up this fast is a little different,” Clarke said. “It’s weird because you feel it in your ears a lot.”

That kind of speed raises a suggestion quickly: Why not run track when you get to South Hadley High School? Clarke resisted because he played basketball, until curiosity enticed him.

“I wanted to see what track could do for me in the winter, and if I didn’t like it, I’d go back to basketball,” he said. “I ran my first race and I loved it. I stuck with it.”

Clarke chose correctly. The junior has developed into one of the state’s best sprinters over the past three years. He posted the fastest 100-meter dash time in the state this spring, crossing the line in 10.45 seconds at the Lou Tozzi Coaches Invitational on June 5 in Wenham. The state record is 10.40, set in 1981.

“That moment was kind of shocking, but I wanted it. I kind of expected it with the amount of work I’ve put in, and it felt deserved to put it up there,” Clarke said before a practice earlier this week in Holyoke. “In that time, that time felt cumulative of everything I’ve done over the season. Finally, all the work I put in was on paper.”

He had some catching up to do. Clarke was rounding into form during the 2019-20 indoor season. He won the 55-meter dash at the MIAA Division 5 state championships and was second at the All-State meet. Then the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the spring season and put his training in limbo.

He ran at Wheaton a few times then eventually linked up with a few Northampton runners like Rowan Hodgson to train.

“Working out with friends is better than working out alone,” Clarke said.

When the spring schedule was announced, it contained fewer meets and barely any chances to race high-level competition. That didn’t matter. Clarke embraced the track along with the pain and struggle it can bring.

“It’s something I thought I would never miss. But I missed it terribly — lying there half dead after a weird workout is worth it in a weird way,” Clarke said. “It feels nice, as sick as that sounds.”

Working together again, Clarke and South Hadley coach Nick Davis drilled down to the race’s fundamentals: the start, individual steps, how his arms move.

“At this point we’ve really had to start getting nit picky,” Davis said. “His raw speed is so fast that he’s reached the level where if we’re not looking at the small details, then we’re not going to be able to make improvements.”

Clarke zeroed in on his blocks. Without a good start, the rest of the 100 feels uphill.

“I only focus on that one literal thing because I can’t focus on 16 things at once,” he said. “You focus on that one thing until it becomes a physical habit then you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Then you focus on the next thing you have to do.”

After the blocks came the first step. Clarke spent a lot of the spring thinking about his left foot. The second step followed — it was rising too high, and Clarke needed to lower it. He and Davis film most of his runs then go through them step by step to see where his mistakes were and what needs to be cleaned up. Before he even watches the video, Clarke can usually tell his coaches what went wrong. He’s right 70 percent of the time, maybe 80, Davis said.

“It’s tedious. I enjoy breaking myself down and I enjoy the knowledge. It’s fun to know I still have stuff to work on,” Clarke said. “It feels great getting that result from that constant work. I think about all those times I’m sitting there focusing on my left foot.”

He’s reached the point that Davis had to improve just to keep up with him — constantly learning to continue to be the resource Clarke needs.

“It makes my job more fun because it’s not the typical high school-level kid. He’s above and beyond,” Davis said. “It’s forced me to do more research and become a better coach where I can work with him and serve him the way he should be served.”

Their efforts have brought Clarke to hallowed ground. He’s .05 seconds away from the fastest 100 in Massachusetts history. While .05 seconds doesn’t sound like much to shave, there isn’t much wiggle room when you’re already going that fast.

“Everything would have to go right. (Five hundredths of a second) in a sprint is a lot, especially when you’re talking a time like that,” Davis said. “Anything under 11 is quick, but when you start getting under 10.5 we start talking, ‘how good was the lean over the line? How was he out of the block? What was his recovery like?’ Everything.”

Clarke thinks he can do it. Being a junior, he still has the luxury of next season if he can’t achieve it at Saturday’s Central/West Division 2 championships in Lunenburg or the All-State meet June 26. But he didn’t peak for the Coaches Invitational. His best run of the season might still be lurking.

“That’s a half step, that’s a big step. In sprints, that’s one complete thing you missed in a race,” Clarke said. “It’s awesome building up to a big meet because we weren’t even sure it was happening. Now that it’s an opportunity to have, it’s definitely something I’m going to take advantage of, and I will show out at that meet.” 

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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