Trailing the defending world champion going into the fourth round of the World Championships triple jump final, Christian Taylor didn’t panic. Instead, he remembered what his coach at the University of Florida had told him.
The result was a spectacular world-leading performance of 17.96m that earned him the gold medal at the age of 21 and left the silver to Phillips Idowu.
“I am a competitor; I feel any athlete knows to turn on that switch,” Taylor explained. “Coach Dick Booth was always somebody that uses the analogy of a race car, the drag race, and you have that red switch and you had to hit it on. I did that on my fourth jump.
“I do this event because it’s the closest thing I can get to flying and I felt it when I hit that last jump. Coach Rana (Reider, his new coach in Atlanta, Georgia) got me really pumped and I looked at Dwight (Phillips) and he gave me a little salute. With that combination, I had what it took to get me where I am.”
After leaving the pit, he ran in front of the camera and made a puzzling gesture. It turns out it is the University of Florida 'gator chomp', employed by students at college football games. Incredibly, he has another year of hospitality and tourism studies at the Gainesville, Florida institution.
After finishing his college season, he joined up with Dwight Phillips, the world long jump champion, and his coach Rana Reider in Atlanta and found that the camaraderie he experienced there was just like being on a college team with his friend, the man who took the bronze medal tonight, Will Claye. In the spectator seats, Phillips and the coach sat watching Taylor.
“My coach definitely told me to calm down because it does get emotional,” the new world champion said. “The thing is I had to be prepared because the way Phillips was jumping you never knew. We have been going head to head all season. Coach Rana had to tell me calm down but, at the same time, be ready to respond because these guys are dangerous. If you look at the charts, these guys could have struck at any time.”
Asked what he did in the days leading up to the triple jump final, he admits he was trackside watching Phillips win his fourth world title while Claye finished ninth.
“To have Dwight in the same group and that ‘family’, he’s like – I want to say a brother – but he’s kind of old, he’s kind of like a dad,” he jokes. “It’s been just a great experience. This is just a stepping stone to the Olympics.”
While it is clear Taylor is a proficient triple jumper, he is also an outstanding 400m runner with a personal best of 45.34. And, not so long ago, 2007 to be exact, he took the long jump bronze medal at the World Youth Championships.
“I am going to do the 400m I think next year,” he vows. “I have been blessed with talent for that. I am not going to let it go to waste. I will run that at the beginning of the season, kind of get that base and then I will have to see when the championship season comes whether I will focus just on the triple jump.”
Though he returns to classes next week, he is no longer eligible for NCAA competition having signed an endorsement contract with the Chinese athletics shoe company Li Ning. That means he can also accept the US$60,000 prize money that comes with his gold medal – a pretty lucrative beginning to a professional career.
Taylor’s winning jump is the fifth best mark in history and tantalisingly close to the 18-metre barrier, which only two athletes have ever beaten, Kenny Harrison of the US and Jonathan Edwards. The Briton has held the world record of 18.29m since 1995 and when asked whether it would be a target in the future, Taylor demonstrated humility.
“We compete to be remembered,” he responds. “Jonathan Edwards is the best. To be even in the same sentence is an honour but definitely you want to be remembered and to have the world record, especially one that has stuck for so long, it’s definitely a goal. Right now the biggest thing is the win and just keep going day by day.”
At the post-event press conference, Taylor introduced his father to the gathered press corps and announced what a blessing it was that he could share in the achievement. There is no celebration planned. Rather, he expects to get some much-needed sleep before heading back to Florida. Then he might get in a game of golf.
“I play golf,” he declares. “I am a pretty good golfer, I probably wouldn’t take any of you guys. I enjoy golf and my parents are from the islands so I am a big swimmer and in Florida I can just hop down to the beach.”
Humble, talented and articulate, Christian Taylor is going to be around for a few more years, making the possibilities of a rematch with Philips Idowu and a healthy Teddy Tamgho a treat to look forward to. Taylor welcomes the competition – with a smile.
Paul Gains for the IAAF