Clay Johnson was born on August 3, 1984, in Jamestown, NY. Shortly thereafter, he and his family moved to Toms River, NJ, where he has lived for most of his life. When Clay was five years old, his dad taught him how to sail in a home-made Toms River Pram. The next year, he began sailing Optimists at the Toms River Yacht Club. Clay's successful Optimist career paved the path for his sailing future. He made two South American teams, won the Valentine's Day International Regatta, and went to one Optimist World Championship in 1997 in Ireland. Clay travelled all over the United States and to ten different countries to compete in Optimists. In 1998, Clay won the Optimist Team Trials, but because he was getting too big for the boat, he declined a second worlds berth and instead jumped into the Laser Radial.
Clay spent two summers in the Laser Radial class before moving up to the Laser Full Rigs, the boat that he currently sails. In 2000, Clay was the youngest person who qualified to compete in the Olympic Trials--where he finished 19th. That summer, he formed a travelling team with future Olympians Bernard Luttmer (coach), Andrew Campbell, and Stu McNay. Vincent Porter, Ward Hackett, and Streett Silvestri also joined the team that summer as the group travelled up and down the eastern seaboard competing. Clay continued to sail lasers up through his high school graduation in June of 2003.
In the fall of 2003, Clay attended Harvard College in Cambridge, MA, where he was a government concentrator. His Freshman fall, Clay took two weeks off from school to compete in the 2004 Olympic Trials in Houston, Texas--where he finished 6th. Afterwards, Clay took a temporary leave from the Laser circuit and played an integral role on the Harvard Sailing Team. Clay was a big influence at all four Team Racing Nationals and Co-ed Nationals that Harvard competed in each of his four years. During the falls, he even did some singlehanded sailing. He remains the only person to win four NEISA (New England Interscholastic Sailing Association) Singlehanded Championships and was top three at Singlehanded Nationals all four years. He was an Honorable Mention All-American his Freshman year and was a full All-American his Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years.
Upon graduating in June of 2007, Clay put together a short Olympic campaign for the 2008 Olympics. Clay spent the summer preparing for the Olympic Trials scheduled for October in Newport, RI. At the trials, Clay finished a respectable third place, but had shown considerable improvement in just four short months of training.
When the trials were over, Clay worked as a commodities trader in Wilton, CT, for just over a year. But in December of 2008, Clay decided that he wanted another go at the Olympic games and parted ways with his job. Clay experienced much success in his campaign for the 2012 Olympics, winning the 2009 Laser National Championship, winning the 2011 Laser North American Championship, and placing 2nd at two World Cup events (Melbourne '09 and Kiel '10). Unfortunately, a bad final day of the US Olympic Trials cost Clay the chance to represent the US in London in 2012. He finished 2nd in the Trials.
At this point, Clay is done campaigning full time, but will continue to sail Lasers and many other boats.