Christian Taylor is an intelligent, articulate and erudite athlete. And he can now add fortune-telling to his list of talents.
The day before the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of 2015, as usual held in the Qatari capital Doha, the Olympic champion and, according to his own words ‘student of the sport’, explained on why he thinks the triple jump is so exciting.
“I have to defend the field events and I think the triple jump is one of the most exciting events to watch,” he said on Thursday. “There are so many variables. It (the triple jump) is always capable of producing a surprise; at any given time someone can hit a great jump and go over 18 metres.”
Little more than 24 hours after he sat down and expanded on his ideas in front of the media, he took advantage of the perfect conditions at the Qatar Sports Club to fulfil a lifelong dream and went beyond that halcyon mark in the sand which only three men had previously achieved.
Unfortunately for Taylor, he also came up against Cuba’s prodigious Pedro Pablo Pichardo in equally stunning form and had to settle for second place in what can be considered by many counts to be the greatest triple jump contest ever.
Pichardo took an early lead with a relatively discrete 17.33m, at least in light of his national record of 17.94m in Havana a week ago.
Taylor responded in the next round with 17.46m before Pichardo then fouled.
The third round saw Taylor record 16.97m before, almost unnoticed initially as the Ethiopian and the Kenyan contingents in the crowd boisterously cheered on the women steeplechasers, Pichardo edged on to the runway.
The 2012 world junior champion and world silver medallist, who is still only 21, ran at full tilt with his upright and elegant sprinting style before hitting the board with about six centimetres to spare.
Three perfectly executed phases later, he touched down at 18.06m; the third-best performance in history to only stand behind Great Britain’s world record-holder Jonathan Edwards and USA’s 1996 Olympic champion Kenny Harrison. It was also a national record and IAAF Diamond League record.
Pichardo knew immediately that he had confirmed his status as the best triple jumper in Cuba’s illustrious history in the event, bouncing up and down on both feet and beating his chest.
Taylor clearly was slightly stunned, but not mortally wounded
He had 17.05m and a foul in the following two rounds as Pichardo passed, obviously not expecting a challenge to his lead to emerge despite Taylor’s credentials.
How wrong he almost was.
Taylor mustered all his resources with his final effort and bounded out to 18.04m, making the Doha meeting the only competition in history in which 18 metres had been surpassed by two men.
Pichardo could be seen anxiously waiting for the result to come up on the screen but Taylor had come up two centimetres short. Taylor, however, had moved up the world all-time list to equal fourth, and second behind Harrison’s national record of 18.09m in the annals of US athletics feats.
“It’s a fantastic feeling for me to break the national record again,” said Pichardo, his lack of English hampering him being more expressive after the event.
By contrast, Taylor lived up to his reputation as an astute observer of the event.
“It’s a special day for me to go over 18 metres, and get a personal best,” he said after adding eight centimetres to the distance he jumped to take the 2011 world title.
“However, in such a close competition and with today’s result, I don’t think there is any big boss in the triple jump. I think the World Championships in Beijing will be a great competition, potentially topping even today.”
In third place was world champion Teddy Tamgho and another member of the elite 18-metre club.
Tamgho went out to 17.24m in the second round but then sadly limped off the track after injuring his left achilles on his fourth effort.
The often-injured but hugely talented Frenchman will be operated on in the nearby Aspetar orthopaedic and sports medical hospital later on Friday.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF