Olympics

Former Gators training partners Taylor, Claye finish 1-2 in men’s triple jump at Rio Olympics

United States' Christian Taylor celebrates with the U.S. flag after winning the gold medal in the men's triple jump final during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tues., Aug. 16, 2016.
United States' Christian Taylor celebrates with the U.S. flag after winning the gold medal in the men's triple jump final during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tues., Aug. 16, 2016. AP

Former University of Florida training partners Christian Taylor and Will Claye duplicated their 1-2 finish in the triple jump from the 2012 London Olympics as Taylor nailed the winning jump on his first attempt and Claye completed “one of the best days of my life” by leaping into the stands to propose to his fiancée.

Taylor got the gold and Claye got the “I do.”

Taylor’s aim was to break Jonathan Edwards’ 1995 world record of 60 feet but he came up short with a season-best mark of 58 feet  7 1/4 inches.

“Unfortunately I’ve been at that almost-mark for a long time,” Taylor said. “I think now the fire burns even stronger because I know it’s in the tank.”

Taylor won gold four years ago, then had to switch his takeoff foot from left to right because of a bum left knee.

“I had to rethink my training and relearn the event,” he said. “To represent the U.S. and the University of Florida is a dream come true. And to do it with Will back to back is very special.”

Taylor’s unusual hop-skip-jump technique that emphasizes speed over height has revolutionized the event. His coach, Dutchman Rana Reider, said changing to a right-right-left sequence from a left-left-right sequence in 2014 was like switching from writing with your right hand to writing with your left hand. Within a year, Taylor had won the world title with a personal best. He’s written 18.30 inside his shoe to remind himself of his goal of breaking Edwards’ record of 18.29 meters.

“I went to London and there were no expectations,” Taylor said. “Everything happened so quickly. This is more special for sure. There have been a lot of sacrifices and a lot more targets on my back.”

Taylor now lives and trains in the Netherlands. He likes to vacuum to relax.

Taylor said he was impressed with Claye’s performance in delivering the engagement ring to Queen Harrison, the U.S. hurdler who missed making the Olympic team this year by .02 seconds at the trials.

“I don’t know how he got over there, there was a very large gap,” Taylor said. “I know we are jumpers but that’s quite risky.”

Claye, who took silver with a jump of 58-3 1/4, said when he woke up at 5 a.m. he decided to pop the question to Harrison at Olympic Stadium.

“To see her face in the moment, it was special,” said Claye, who kept the ring he designed inside his backpack. “To see how happy she was despite the fact she should have been competing here — that trumped the hurt from not making the team. She started crying immediately. She was shocked and happy at the same time.”

Omar McLeod ran a technically-sharp 110-meter hurdle race to win Jamaica’s third gold medal in track and field with a time of 13.05. As was the case with Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson in the 100-meter dashes, it wasn’t close. Spain’s Orlando Ortega was second in 13.17. Oregon football player Devon Allen finished fifth in 13.31.

Bolt jogged to victory in his qualifying heat for the men’s 200 semifinals with a time of 20.28 seconds. He said he would like to attempt to break his 19.19 world record if he feels good.

“I’m feeling a little bit tired but it’s expected. It’s the morning session and I’m not really a morning person,” he said. “I will have enough rest and enough energy to definitely try [for the record]. But we’ll see how it goes.”

Orlando’s Justin Gatlin also had a relaxed path to advance, winning his heat in 20.42. Canada’s Andre De Grasse had the fastest qualifying time of 20.09. American LaShawn Merritt also advanced. The semis are Wednesday and finals are Thursday.

“It felt like a training day,” Gatlin said. “The 200 is a different hat to put on. A gold medal? That’s what we work for day in and day out.”

Miami’s Brianna Rollins qualified fastest in the women’s 100 hurdles with a time of 12.54. Her training partner Kristi Castlin was second fastest. The final is Wednesday night. Miami Northwestern High graduate Rollins won the U.S. Olympic Trials, where Castlin was second.

There was an upset in the women’s 1,500 meters as Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon outran Ethiopia’s world record holder Genzebe Dibaba on the final lap to win in 4:08.92. Jenny Simpson surged in the final 200 and ended a string of U.S. futility in the event to take the bronze medal. Teammate Shannon Rowbury was fourth.

Canada’s Derek Drouin won the men’s high jump.

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