14 January 2002More than anything, the triple jump in 2002 will be remembered for the many brilliant clashes waged between Jonathan Edwards and Christian Olsson, battles which pitted the seemingly ageless talents of the British World record holder against the youthful vigour of the Swedish challenger.
But lurking quietly, and away from the spotlight, was US champion Walter Davis, a 23 year-old relative newcomer to the world stage, who leapt from the shadows on a few occasions to let the world know that there are indeed others ready to challenge the supremacy of triple jumping's super duo.
"It doesn't really bother me," the soft-spoken Davis admits about having to take the back seat to world's top two jumpers. "I was a newcomer this past summer [on the European circuit]. Now I'm not going to be a newcomer when the new season starts. They know they're going to have to watch out for me. I know they're not going to come out with one jump and figure they have it won."
Davis first showed promise on the international stage in 2000 when he earned entry to the US Olympic team roster in both the long and triple jumps. He opted to compete in only the triple jump in Sydney, where he finished 11th.
"Once I made the team, that motivated me more - first for the collegiate season, I knew that everyone would out to beat me. That made me work harder."
A year later, he finished an impressive fifth at the World Championships in Edmonton.
Davis began the 2002 season with successful defences of his NCAA indoor and outdoor triple jump titles for Louisiana State University, the latter with a personal best 17.34 in late May in his home stadium, in what was his last collegiate competition. For good measure, he won the long jump title as well (8.08), improving from his runner-up finish the year before. Three weeks later he made an even bigger splash, winning his first national triple jump title, while improving his PB to 17.59. But while most of his collegiate competitors called it quits for the year, Davis' ‘third’ season of the year was just beginning.
"I still had some energy in me from the collegiate season, which just carried on into Europe. I went to Europe, jumping against some of the world's best jumpers. I did decent. I was happy with what I did do after the long collegiate season I had."
Davis notched up key Grand Prix victories in Lausanne (17.39), Rome (17.33) and London (17.33), the latter he says - a victory over Edwards and fellow Briton Phillips Idowu - was his most memorable. He then added a win over Olsson in Brussels (17.40), stumbled to a sixth place finish at the IAAF Grand Prix Final, but bounced back by striking silver at the IAAF World Cup, finishing behind Edwards, but topping the Swede.
"That was another good meet for me," he said of late September's World Cup. "That was my last meet, and I just wanted to do better than I did at the GP Final."
Davis, who only took up the event after switching to athletics from his first love, basketball, in 1997, admits he's still very much a student of his chosen event, and has much to learn from Edwards and Olsson.
"Their technique is different from everybody else," he says. "They run off the board, their body's straight, they have good posture, a great take off. I still have a lot of improvement to make on my technique. Jonathan? When he hits his big jumps, His form is perfect."
While the triple jump is his favourite event, saying that he prefers the speed/technique combination required, he's not at all ready to give up the long jump, an event in which he was ranked fifth in the United States last year. The triple jump may be his focus, but he has some doubling on his mind as well.
"It really depends on how the season goes," he says. "I may focus on both."
His indoor debut may come as early as January 25, before he heads to Europe to compete in the four meet Energizer-Euro Series. He plans on a long jump/triple jump double at the US Indoor Championships, but is clearly aiming to make his World Indoor Championships appearance in his specialty. He will then return to Baton Rouge to finish his degree in Child Psychology, and prepare for the outdoor season.
Just 23, Davis foresees a long career as a jumper, urged as much by his competitive spirit as he is by Edwards' longevity.
"It's amazing how well he's still jumping," Davis says of the grey-haired World Champion, adding with a friendly laugh, "When we got home from Europe, and people saw the meet on TV, people are like, 'How do you let that old man beat you?’, I just said, ‘Hey, that's the world record holder’."
But will he still be competing at Edwards' age?
"He's 36, I'm 23. Probably not," he says, again with a laugh. "Two more Olympics?" He pauses, perhaps to do some quick maths, then says, "At least two more Olympics!"
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF