Reigning world and Olympic champion Christian Taylor is hot favourite to win another gold medal in the men’s triple jump final at the Olympics. He should have little trouble in surging to victory, such has been his dominance over the event in recent years.
Taylor actually seems more focused on breaking the world record than anything else – a gold would be a mere by-product of that and he might not be too happy with just a gold. That illustrates the extent to which he towers above the rest at triple jump right now.
When he won the World Championship final in Beijing last year, Taylor posted the second-longest mark of all time. His 18.21 meter jump was just eight centimetres behind the world record set by the UK’s Jonathan Edwards – himself an Olympic gold medallist and double world champion – in Gothenburg back in 1995. It has stood for 21 years and nobody has come closer than Taylor, who has also posted the fourth and seventh best distances of all time.
Now his sights are firmly set on breaking Edwards’ 21-year-old record. “That is what drives me every day,” said Taylor. “A medal will be great but I think if I come out with a world record, then it is a win-win.” If he does win gold, he will be the first American to win the event in successive Olympics in more than 100 years.
A promising youth career started to bear fruit for Taylor when he won the 2011 World Championship gold in Daegu. He followed that up with a gold in the London 2012 Games, where he beat compatriot Will Claye by 19cm in a gripping final.
His journey to Rio has not been a smooth one, however. At just 22 years old his legs had taken such a pounding that he had to completely overhaul his strategy after the London Games. He moved from his home in Florida to Loughborough in the UK to work with elite-level British sprinters and jumpers at Loughborough University, which is world renowned for its sporting prowess and set about completely revamping his jumping technique.
He now jumps off his right leg – akin to a pitcher throwing with the opposite hand or a tennis player wielding a racket with his other hand – to assuage the beating his left leg had taken. But he says the switch is paying dividends and that was illustrated perfectly in the Beijing final. Taylor went into it as an underdog after being usurped by Cuba’s Pablo Pedro Pichardo in the Qatar Athletic Super Grand Prix. In the final of that competition, Taylor jumped 18.04m – that performance stands now as the fourth best of all time. But Pichardo managed 18.06, making him the second best of all time. Taylor turned it around in Beijing, however: his jump of 18.21 (the second best performance ever behind Edwards’ 18.29) beat Pichardo by almost 50cm. It was an astonishing performance, breaking the long-standing American record, and it has convinced Taylor he now has the ability to finally surpass Edwards’ record.
He may think his greatest competitor is himself. The second favourite is Claye, silver medallist inLondon 2012, but Claye has not beaten him in a major final since the World Indoor Championships four years ago. His great recent rival Pichardo has pulled out with an ankle injury, paving a clear path to the top of the podium for Taylor. He is around the -300 mark, in from -200 when sportsbooks thought Pichardo might compete, and although the betting odds are not particularly attractive, it looks a good betting pick as he is head and shoulders above the rest of the field at present.