It was very much a case of saving the best till last. After his victories in Daegu in 2011, Beijing in 2015 and London in 2017, Christian Taylor claimed his fourth triple jump world title on 29 September 2019 in the jumping pit of the Khalifa Stadium in Doha (Qatar). He fouled his first two jumps, recorded a modest 17.42m on his third attempt, but then really took off, soaring into the lead with a jump of 17.86m on his fourth attempt, before leaping 17.92m to guarantee victory ahead of compatriot Will Claye, who jumped 17.66m.
Chasing down Saneyev and Edwards to make history
“[This victory] is like the first one. I won’t sleep tonight. My parents were here, my fiancée was here, my godfather came from the US… I had really great support. I’m very proud to just bring home another gold […] for the US,” he said just after the event. “It’s a season best. For sure I wanted to bring this world record [to] the US – I think this is where it belongs. We have a really strong history in the triple jump.”
Indeed, ever since he started making a name for himself at the highest level in the early 2010s, the reigning double Olympic champion has been chasing the long-standing world record of 18.29m, set by Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards on 7 August 1995 at the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg (Sweden). Taylor has come close on several occasions, most notably when he won the Beijing 2015 World Championships with a leap of 18.21m – the second-best jump of all time. “I just want to continue to fight for that special number,” he said in Doha.
And when it comes to records, there is another one Taylor is looking to equal: winning three consecutive Olympic titles in the triple jump, something that only the Soviet Union’s Viktor Saneyev has managed to date, at Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976. Saneyev then went on to take silver at Moscow 1980. After his fourth title at the World Championships, Taylor’s attention is now switching to Olympic gold medal number three. “Starting tomorrow, [the] focus is on the road to Tokyo,” explained the American triple jumper. “I don’t take [anything] for granted – the trials are going to be extremely difficult. I believe the US team is the most difficult team to make; this is why I take so much pride in representing them.”
First Olympic title at London 2012
Born on 18 June 1990, Taylor grew up in Fayetteville (Georgia). He was an extremely talented athlete in his high-school days and stood out in both American football and track and field, competing in the long jump and the 400m as well as the triple jump. He set records at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone in all these disciplines and won three gold medals at the 2008 National Scholastic Indoor Championships, having already claimed the triple jump title at the World Youth Championships in Athletics in Ostrava (Czech Republic) the previous year, with a leap of 15.98m. He went on to attend the University of Florida and trained under coach Rana Reider, who would remain by his side in all his future exploits. In the meantime, Taylor’s triple jump performances improved rapidly. He became the American no.1 in 2010 after leaping 17.18m, securing three NCAA titles with the Florida Gators and being named in the All-America team 10 times.
After winning his first World Championship title in Daegu in 2011, he claimed Olympic gold on 9 August 2012 in London.
On both the domestic and international stage, his biggest rival was his compatriot, Will Claye. Claye beat Taylor at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March 2012. Then at the United States Olympic trials, Taylor and Claye came first and second respectively. At the Olympic Stadium in London, Claye, who had already won bronze in the long jump, took the lead in the final with 17.54m. Taylor fouled his first two jumps and could manage only 17.15m with his third. But his next jump – 17.81m – secured him the gold medal, taking him ahead of Claye (17.62m) and Italy’s Fabrizio Donato (17.48 m).
“It’s such a blessing to share this moment with my family. I'm so honoured,” said Taylor after his victory. “I have to thank my coach […]; at the beginning I was a little anxious. My goal was to take Jonathan Edwards’ world record. I'm so honoured to be Olympic champion.”
Same again and one better at Tokyo 2020?
In 2013, the Olympic champion moved to England to join Reider at the High-Performance Athletics Centre in Loughborough, Leicestershire, and had to contend with a very different climate to the one he had been used to in Florida, where he had previously trained. He finished on the third step of the podium at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow – France’s Teddy Tamgho clinched gold with a jump of 18.03m – before taking advantage of the fact that there were no Olympic Games or World Championships in 2014 to compete in the IAAF World Relays in Nassau. Taylor won the gold medal in the 4x400m for the USA alongside David Verbug, Tony McQuay and LaShawn Merritt.
Having cleared the 18m mark for the first time at the Diamond League meeting in Doha in May 2015 – in what was a historic competition, as his jump of 18.04m was beaten by Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo – Taylor went to Beijing in search of his second world title. In the final of the 15th IAAF World Championships, in the Bird’s Nest jumping pit, he faced off against Pichardo in an intense battle which concluded with Taylor producing a leap of 18.21m on his final attempt to secure victory.
A year later, in the early morning of Tuesday 16 August 2016 in the Olympic Stadium jumping pit in Rio, Taylor retained his triple jump title. And he needed only one attempt – his very first one. Taylor was the seventh athlete to step up in the final, and his opening jump was better than the one that had secured him the gold medal at the London 2012 Games – 17.86m, a season’s best. It was a distance that none of his opponents could match, and Taylor underlined his domination with two other leaps measuring 17.77m. Claye’s first jump of the final was also his best – his leap of 17.76m saw him take silver. The first jump by China’s Bin Dong, meanwhile, was the only one of his six attempts to receive the white flag, but it was enough to earn him the bronze medal (17.58m).
Having joined the ranks of compatriot Meyer Prinstein (1900, 1904), Brazil’s Ademar Da Silva (1952, 1956) and Poland’s Josef Schmidt (1960, 1964) and Viktor Saneyev (1968, 1972, 1976) to become the fifth athlete to complete an Olympic double in his discipline, Taylor explained in Rio that he wanted more and was looking to go even further by breaking the world record. For now, he can be happy with being the only four-time world champion in triple jump history.
At the age of 29, the greatest triple jumper of his generation is continuing his quest to clear 18.29m – if possible while winning gold at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo next year!