Taylor, Claye shine spotlight on triple jump with 1-2 finish
LONDON -- In the heady moments after they had gone one-two in the triple jump, giving the United States its first podium finishes in the event since 1996, new Olympic champion Christian Taylor and runner-up Will Claye were hustled through the media "mixed zone," that cacophonous gauntlet of quick-hit question-and-answer under the Olympic Stadium stands. Both were beaming and still almost bouncing (as triple jumpers seem to do even when standing still), their newly-bestowed medals glinting against their dark USA warm-ups, and though they came through one after the other, each said essentially the same thing when asked about how the competition had just played out.
"Going one-two with Christian is awesome," said Claye (whose bronze in the long jump last Saturday made him the first man since Naoto Tajima of Japan in 1976 to win Olympic medals in both horizontal jumps). "It's like being with your brother."
A moment later, Taylor sounded the sibling note himself, saying of Claye, "Oh, yeah, that's my guy, that's my brother. We worked together, we trained together, and that just makes it awesome."
On an epic night of Olympic track and field that featured a thunderous world record in the 800 meters by Kenya's David Rudisha, the coronation of U.S. decathlete Ashton Eaton as the proverbial World's Greatest Athlete, and a Jamaican sweep in the 200 led by a guy named Usain Bolt (who declared himself, at last, "a living legend"), Taylor and Claye did their part for another brotherhood -- that of the oft-overshadowed field eventers.
Just the night before, Claye pointed out, women's long-jump winner Brittney Reese of the U.S. had said that jumpers don't get their share of the spotlight. "Brittney's right, we don't get the recognition," he said. "Jumpers -- we call ourselves 'sprinters with attitude,' because we sprint down the runway AND we jump. Christian and I, we're bringing attention back to the jumps, back to how it was when Mike Conley and guys like that were jumping. We're trying to do that and do it even better."
"That's a goal of ours," said Taylor. "It's about putting on a show."
The 22-year-old Taylor, whose leap of 17.96 meters (just over 58'11") to win the world championship in Daegu, South Korea, last year made him the fifth-longest jumper in history, had come into London with a particularly boffo exhibition in mind, having designs on British legend Jonathan Edwards's magisterial world record of 18.29 (a shade over 60 feet), from 1995. "I grew up watching Jonathan Edwards," Taylor told The Daily Mail shortly before the Games. "I'm here to surpass his mark."
For the 6'2", 175-pound Taylor, who won indoor and outdoor NCAA triple jump titles while at Florida, and who also possesses 45.34-second speed for 400 meters, the 60-foot barrier was certainly beginning to seem reachable.
Yet on Thursday night, as he stepped onto the runway for his third attempt, Taylor's show had become a bit more dramatic than he might have liked. He had fouled on his first two attempts -- both of which were big, big jumps but had a toe over the line -- and now was staring down possible elimination, with only the top eight jumpers being given a final three jumps.
"It was a little of nerve racking," Taylor would say afterward, "but I kind of cleansed my head and said a little prayer."
Dialing it back to be safe, he popped a jump of 17.15, good enough to move him to fifth and grant him three more chances at the gold. That position was currently held -- in perfect sibling-rivalry fashion -- by Claye, who had followed an opening foul of his own, with a powerful jump of 17.54.
Taylor, however, wasted no time in reasserting himself, leaping 17.81 meters (58' 5 ¼") on his fourth attempt, longer than anyone else in the competition had ever jumped. Immediately after him, Leevan Sands of the Bahamas, the Beijing bronze medalist, had his knee give out on take-off, and collapsed into the pit. He was taken off on a stretcher. Claye, shaken by the incident ("It kind of hit me," he would say, "and they kept showing the replay"), nonetheless improved to 17.62 on his fourth jump, but could not muster anything longer. (Fabrizio Donato of Italy, competing in his fourth Olympics, jumped 17.48 to take third.) Going for it on his final attempt, Taylor fouled one more time, but it didn't matter. The gold was his, and the silver was staying in the family.
"You know, it's big brother-little brother," said an ebullient Taylor after he and Claye had completed a victory lap, wrapped in American flags, even as the stadium was beginning to buzz for the introduction of the 200-meter finalists. "We're always going to be fighting each other but at the end of the day, he's my brother; we're gonna go home together shaking hands, hugging. It's business on the track, but it's family off. It's all out of love."