Taking gold at the Pan American Games not only lifts your athletic profile, it also significantly raises your credentials as an influencer – particularly when you’re a woman competing in what is arguably still a male-dominated field. So it’s a surprise when elite track athlete Queen Harrison Claye flips the dynamic and admits that she looks to her fans for motivation. “I’m so inspired by the young women and girls that watch me and see themselves in something I do or aspire to do. Because of that I stand a little taller.”
It’s this appreciation that makes Claye such an accomplished athlete and powerful spokeswoman. It is a role she recently reinforced by taking to the track in appropriately “racy” lingerie as part of Agent Provocateur’s Play to Win campaign, depicting elite sportswomen competing in the brand’s latest collection.
When it comes to sending a powerful message to women everywhere, who better to deliver it than those who embody female strength, performance and ambition in all they do?
Body of evidence
An Olympic hurdler, Claye knows all about pushing body and mind to the limit. She believes that inner strength often comes at unexpected times. “One of my proudest achievements was setting the championship record en route to a Pan American Games gold medal,” she says. “It was right on the heels of placing a devastating fourth place at the 2015 USA Championships. Others suggested I end my season, but I forged on to represent my country and ran one of my fastest times.”
Claye says she first acknowledged her own potential when she was just 15. She was running the 300m hurdles at a district championships when she fell. “Despite the disappointment, I picked myself up, raced hard and won,” she says. But crossing the finish line, she felt a pain in her arm that “almost knocked me off my feet”. She’d fractured her clavicle and had to forgo the rest of the track season. “But to think my mind and body were so focused at such a young age that I was able to muster pure adrenaline and finish that race... it still astounds me to this day. Wow.”
Claye joined her first track team at school in Virginia because “it looked fun” and instantly felt she belonged in that community. She still attributes much of her success to those around her. “It may seem that I’m on the track alone, but in reality I’m being held up by a full support system, including my faith, family, coach and fans.” This includes her husband, three-times Olympic medallist William Claye.
She also credits the outspoken sportswomen who have come before her and admits she’s lucky to compete in an era that’s inspiring such positive change. “I’m so thankful to those who paved the way. For as long as I can remember, women have been told to stay within a certain box that defines them,” she says. “My sisters in sports have been exposing and fighting pay gaps and standing at the front line of social issues. We must show that being a woman is actually one of the most powerful tools we have.”
But leading the field has its challenges. Claye admits that a few years ago she lost her love of competing and considered retirement. “I was so focused on not having a sponsorship deal or making enough money,” she says. It took a change of outlook to get her back on course. “Instead of seeing competitions as being an indicator of a winner and loser, I began to think of races as a space to express my talent as a performer. It made a world of difference.”
Claye now prioritises fun when she competes. “I run fast because of my hard work and instead of caring about the naysayers who said I shouldn’t wear lipstick or run with my hair down, I take control of my own narrative and freely express myself as I see fit.”
It was these qualities that drew Agent Provocateur’s creative director, Sarah Shotton, when it came to choosing ambassadors for the brand’s latest campaign. “I’m always inspired by women who push their bodies and mind to the limit,” she says. “Embrace your body shape, own it, love it. Strive to be the best you can be – and do it in style.”
Claye was keen to be involved. “There’s great power in seeing yourself represented in different spaces,” she says. “If there’s one message I’d love to represent, it’s that a woman can – and should – occupy any and all spaces she wants; there are no limits.”
Celebrating the extraordinary potential of the female body, Agent Provocateur’s #WePlaytoWin campaign highlights four elite sportswomen competing in the brand’s sensual and powerful S/S ’20 designs. For details of the lingerie featured above, and all other collections, visit agentprovocateur.com.