Christian Taylor leaves an impression on athletics history, not just the sandpit, with every jump he takes.
The word ‘legend’ can be tossed around casually in the world of sport, but nobody can deny that status to Taylor while keeping a straight-face or knowing any sliver of knowledge about athletics. A double Olympic champion, three-time World Champion and the second-greatest triple-jumper in history are all titles that mean seldom has any athlete made such an indelible mark on his sport.
The only thing missing from his interminable collection of accolades? The world record. However, to consider that any sort of failure, given the seismic achievement of Jonathan Edwards’ 1995 jump, would be incredibly unfair on the American great. Yet that doesn’t mean that Taylor hasn’t spent hours watching the Gothenburg footage and dreamt about flying further than any man before him.
In a year where the world has already remembered ‘a giant leap for mankind’, Taylor is unashamed to admit that he watches Edward’s unmatched hop, skip and jump on a regular basis. Speaking exclusively with GiveMeSport, the reigning World and Olympic champion conceded through a laugh: “At this point, I’m surprised YouTube hasn’t blocked the video from my computer or my log-in!
“I’ve watched it countless, countless times. For me, every time I watch it, I’m never short from amazement, astonishment and appreciation for that. At one point, I was with Teddy Tamgho in Monaco and I said that if it wasn’t for him, I never would have thought that I could have jumped 18 metres. But then to surpass 18 metres and then realise I still had to get to 18.29m, I was like: ‘this man is crazy! Why did Jonathan have to jump so far?’
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Chasing the world record
“But it’s so special. If it wasn’t for people like Jonathan that laid the path for me and put this out there, then I don’t think I would really have that push to go further.” The tantalising prospect of flying over that 24-year-old line in the sand is one that inspires Taylor to this day, but the relentless push for that world record has proven a double-edged sword at times.
On his way to victory at the 2015 IAAF World Championships, the American stunned the Bird’s Nest Stadium by jumping an astonishing 18.21 metres, which Edwards himself had only surpassed once with a legal wind. However, traipse through the archives to find Taylor’s post-championship interview and you wouldn’t have known that he had just achieved something historic.
Caught in the moment by a sense that ‘second isn’t good enough,’ it’s a mentality that Taylor has since grown out of – leading to a new sense of pride in that incomparable Beijing victory. “Oh my gosh, that jump didn’t settle in 100% for at least a year,” Taylor reflected. “Everyone was talking about 18.21m and I was like: ‘That’s cool, but now I’m second of all time, who remembers second?’
Striving to be the greatest
“I kept thinking: ‘I’m only number two of all time’, but I was the world champion and this was after switching legs, there was so many things that I should have been grateful for, but all I could think about was: ‘who remembers number two?’ It was about six months later, when I was back in training, that I was like: ‘you jumped 18.21m, that’s pretty special.’ It was a blessing and a curse!”
To compete in any sport to an elite level requires a mentality fondly referred to as ‘crazy’ in popular media, but to become a World and Olympic champion requires digging deeper for an extra 1% that Taylor is incredibly rare for possessing. Numerous factors have formed the 29-year-old’s inspiring drive and determination, but family life and religion are at the core of everything for Taylor.
Naming his own parents as the spark for his hard work, the triple-jumper explained: “From very early on, they said: ‘I really do not care whether you want to be a scholar or an athlete, but you must strive to be the best at whatever you do’ and that’s what I did. Once I internalised that, I instilled it in me and this is how I think and train and believe in myself, year after year.
Taylor’s parents and Christian faith
“And I think my faith has played the biggest part in the sense of an identity. Before I really got into Christianity, a lot of my identity was about how well I did at something. So, if I didn’t perform, I thought that I might be less of a person, but then I realised that there are just greater things in life. I need to value just actually being a better person and striving to be better off the track.
“It actually improved my performances, too, by taking the pressure off and making me think: ‘how can I use this platform to show God’s love and just be a good person?'” It’s fitting that a cocktail of factors, just as numerous as the components of a triple-jump, are the driving force behind Taylor’s athletics success and even achieving greatness hasn’t dampened his desire to push further.
The Uniondale-born athlete could hang up his spikes tomorrow, sit back and admire his medal collection and still be considered a legend of the sport. However, that attitude simply isn’t conducive to his ethos and a large part of his journey to greatness was solidified on the rain-sodden shores of our very own United Kingdom.
Love for British crowds
Laughing at the introduction of Loughborough as a ‘tropical’ location, Taylor admitted that he gets ‘jealous’ of the atmosphere that greets British fans on home territory. “It was a very important part of my career,” the American openly credited. “The passion, the love and the following of athletics in the UK is phenomenal. I’ve been training with Shara Proctor now for over 10 years.
“I tell her all the time how jealous I am when we get to the London Diamond League specifically, but even in Birmingham, the passion when you have a GB vest on is so special. Everyone is so supportive and knowledgable of athletics, but for the home team they’re even more so. I remember when Jess Ennis and Mo [Farah] were in the Olympic Stadium and the crowd was deafening.”
Through even the loudest of British crowds, however, Taylor is able to return himself to the white noise that entombs the runway in his own, literal tunnel vision. Victory at London 2012 was his second major championship medal and now, going into Doha 2019, the American has the near-unfathomable opportunity to layer three World crowns on top of one another.
Eyes set on Doha 2019
Nevertheless, Taylor is determined to approach every competition as if it’s his first and flying to the Gulf as reigning champion will do little to waver his concentration. The 29-year-old broke it down by saying: “There is definitely a greater connection and it does give you something extra to fight for, but at the same time, once I’ve qualified for a team, I think: ‘this is the first team you’ve made – you have to put yourself through the qualifying rounds and into the final.’
“I cannot put the cart before the horse and say: ‘I’m defending the title, this is mine,’ because it’s not, it’s anyone’s game. I need to be prepared for the qualifying rounds, make sure I get the mark I need and then in the final, be ready to fight. My first time at the Olympic Games, I failed my first two jumps and that was purely because I was so emotional and excited. I cannot make that mistake again.”
Some athletes have an aura around them whenever they step on to the pitch, court or track – and Taylor is certainly one of them. Whether it’s the latent half-life of the many gold medals that have hung around his neck or the ambience of all the incredible moments he’s produced, his sheer presence on the runway can turn the heads of any stadium in the world.
That will undoubtedly be the case over the next two years, which gives athletes the opportunity to create a legacy with World and Olympic glory. Taylor already has both, but victory in Doha and Tokyo would launch him into a stratosphere which – no matter how close or far from 18.29 metres it may be – would still see him hop, skip and jump past any medal-mark set before him.
In many ways, Taylor actually ignored the advice of his parents all those years ago, because to say that he only ‘became the best’ at triple-jumping would be an Olympic-sized understatement.