Best still to come for U.S. triple jumper Taylor

USATF TrackTown USA Olympics track and field triple jump Florida Gators history
After earning a roster spot on Team USA at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, Christian Taylor went on to win the gold medal in the triple jump at the 2012 London Summer Games. (TrackTown USA photo by Phil Johnson)

When Christian Taylor mentions that he’s been bouncing from place to place since leaving the University of Florida in 2011, the man means what he says – literally as well as figuratively.

As the world’s No. 1-ranked triple jumper in 2014 and the reigning 2012 Olympic champion, few are better at bouncing than him.

Just last week, in one of the best triple jump duals ever, Taylor set a personal best of 59 feet, 2 ¼ inches (18.04m) at the season-opening Diamond League meeting in Doha, Qatar.

He was upstaged at that meet by Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who moved up to No. 3 on the all-time list by soaring 59-3 (18.06m) to win the event by two centimeters. Taylor’s PR is tied for fourth on the all-time charts, and ranks second in the U.S.; two inches shy of American record-holder Kenny Harrison.

Great Britain’s Johnathan Edwards holds the world record of 60-0 ¼ (18.29m).

What’s encouraging for Taylor is that when he achieved his previous PR at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, he was only 21 years old: No one that young had ever jumped as far.

Edwards was 29 when he covered the equivalent of two football first downs in just three bounds, as was American Willie Banks when he set the world record in 1985. Harrison was 31 when he won his Olympic gold medal in 1996.

As his performance in Doha suggests, the best is yet to come for Taylor, a notion he wholeheartedly endorses. He turns 25 one week before this year’s USATF Outdoor Championships, June 25-28, at Hayward Field in TrackTown USA.

“I definitely believe the next three years, physically, mentally, my whole attitude, I want them to be the best years of my career,’’ Taylor said. “I’m so mindful of all the little things. Sometimes my coach says ‘Relax and be 24 years old.’ I’m always thinking how can I get more centimeters? I definitely believe (Rio de Janeiro) can be my best Olympics and my best two World Championships (in 2015 and ’17). I’m definitely pushing for it.’’

Christian Taylor was the 2014 USATF runner-up in the triple jump in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo courtesy of USATF)

Christian Taylor was the 2014 USATF runner-up in the triple jump in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo courtesy of USATF)

Taylor opened his 2015 outdoor season at the Drake Relays in late April. He managed 55-2 in cold conditions in finishing second to his friend and fellow Gator alum Will Claye, who jumped 55-7. It was a reverse of their order of finish at the 2012 London Olympics.

“That was the foundation of my professional career,’’ Taylor said. “To be able to go 1-2 with him throughout my collegiate career. Going to the Olympics and getting gold and silver, it’s an amazing feeling. My heart is so big for the Gator Nation. It’s so awesome. Even now, when we get on the podium, people say, ‘Do the (Gator) chomp,’ do the chomp.’ My heart bleeds orange and blue.’’

There could be quite a bit of chomping going on in the triple jump at the 2015 USATF Championships in June.

As the 2014 Diamond League event winner, Taylor earned a bye into this year’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, meaning he does not have to qualify at the USATF meet. It also means the U.S. will be taking four triple jumpers to Beijing, Taylor plus the top three finishers in Eugene.

It’s possible, though not likely, that all four hop-step-and-jumpers could be either current or former Florida athletes with alums Taylor, Claye (58-3), Omar Craddock (55-8 ½) and current Gator Marquis Dendy (57-2i), although non-Florida types such as Chris Benard, Chris Carter and Troy Doris figure to have something to say about that come June.

“Credit the Diamond League for implementing this rule,’’ Taylor said of his bye. “It helps me tailor my whole training for the World Championships. I don’t have to peak for the U.S. championships. Hopefully, this will allow one or two (Florida) guys to make the team. That would be awesome. They have the (qualifying) standard, so it would be great to see them make it.’’

Having achieved his goal of 18 meters in Doha – a distance achieved by only five men – Taylor is now setting his sights on Harrison’s U.S. record of 59-4 ¼ (18.09m).

“More than ever,’’ Taylor said. “It’s something I’m always shooting for. Getting to Kenny Harrison’s record is (a goal). Records are made to be broken and it’s something I do shoot for. The American record is first on my mind.’’

As for Edwards’ epic 60-foot jump from 1995, Taylor said, “It’s so long for a reason. It’s an amazing distance. It blows your mind that someone actually did that.’’

Since leaving Florida in 2011, Georgia-native Taylor has called England and now Arnhem in The Netherlands home, where he’s only a train ride away from most of the Diamond League meets. He’s been coached by Rana Reider since 2009, when Reider was on coach Mike Holloway’s staff at Florida.

“I just bounce from place to place,’’ Taylor said. “Since leaving school I’ve been all over the place. I feel like I don’t have a home.’’

"At Hayward, everyone gets the love," said U.S. triple jumper Christian Taylor. (TrackTown USA photo by Phil Johnson)

“At Hayward, everyone gets the love,” said U.S. triple jumper Christian Taylor. (TrackTown USA photo by Phil Johnson)

In terms of Olympic and IAAF call letters, Taylor said he much prefers NED to GBR. In The Netherlands, “I can drive on the correct side of the road,’’ and “Where we’re based, the train to get to Amsterdam is so easy, as opposed to two years ago when I was two hours outside of London.’’

In Arnhem, Taylor’s training group includes hurdler Tiffany Porter and long jumper Shara Proctor of Great Britain, sprinter Beate Schrott of Austria and a number of Dutch athletes. “It’s a mixture of all different nationalities,’’ he said.

Being young, fit, competitive athletes, Taylor’s group consumes a diet different than most Dutch people.

“They’re blown away by how much red meat we can eat,’’ he said, laughing.

In the process of bouncing all over the place, Taylor said his favorite place to light is Eugene and Hayward Field, where he can attest to the facility’s magic.

“As a jumper, most of the time we’re on the backstretch,’’ he said. “To be a long jumper or triple jumper at that stadium, on the homestretch, it’s so cool. You can see the whole stadium rocking. It’s such a cool feeling. At Hayward, everyone gets the love. People know what’s happening. When you feel that as an athlete, it makes you want to put on a show, do something special.’’

Such as a Gator Chomp in the land of the Ducks? Stay tuned.

Previous TTUSA stories by John Crumpacker:

Olympian inspired by motherhood

John Crumpacker was a sportswriter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle for more than three decades. In that time he won seven national writing awards and covered 10 Olympic Games. He was president of the Track & Field Writers of America on two occasions.