The Olympic and world triple jump champion says the weight of pressure at the US Championships played on his mind ahead of Rio Olympics qualification
If 2015 was, as branded by world and Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor, the ‘Year of the Jumps’ then 2016 may be more fittingly titled as ‘Year of the Slumps’ in comparison.
Taylor and his Cuban rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo took the event up a few notches last year as they went out beyond the exalted 18-metre mark on five occasions, the pinnacle being reached by the American whose 18.21m jump in his final effort during the World Championships final took him to second on the world all-time list behind Great Britain’s world record-holding Jonathan Edwards.
The discipline has been far more subdued 12 months on. Taylor’s 17.76m world leading distance had been bettered at this point on no fewer than seven occasions but this time round Pichardo, so far, is nowhere to be found.
“I like to say maybe I’ve broken [the competition] down. Triple jump is tough. It’s very tough on the body. It’s not easy so this is why I’m so grateful for the people I surround myself with,” said the 26-year-old about the state of the event.
“Sometimes it’s not just the most talented person or the best person that wins. You have to be there and be healthy. I’m very grateful for that.”
Without Pichardo’s looming presence, Taylor says he has struggled to lift himself to the heights he consistently set in 2015.
“If no one is jumping I get very bored,” he added. “I’m looking for a rivalry. This is what it takes for big performances. Big competition brings out big results for myself personally. I’d love to have the opportunity to talk about the world record.”
Taylor finished second at the high-pressured US Olympic trials to compatriot Will Claye, who sits second on the world list for 2016, but explains his blip as a result of the pressure of competing at his first US trials since qualifying for the 2012 Olympics.
The luxury of a bye into each of the last two World Championships meant for Taylor not having to concern himself with the threat of not reaching either, and he admitted the high stakes and potential for a critical error this time round played a part in his unexpected defeat.
He said: “This year there’s something on the line so I think the nerves maybe a little bit got the best of me. I was a little out of my element. Going to World Championships I had great performances time after time. You have nothing to lose there. Once you’re there you just go for it.
“At the trials I was working on a documentary and it was about the road to Rio. There was a chance maybe I didn’t make it to Rio. Little things like that were all playing in my head.
“I have a target on my back. I’m the reigning champ and obviously that comes with added pressure. I think I let it get to me a little bit. I’ve said time and time again. The US team is the hardest team to make.
“I feel more relief now. I can be myself and get back to that fun mentality and do what I love. I play in the sand, that’s my job. I try not to ever forget that. That’s why I smile and thank everyone that’s allowing me to live my dream.”
After coming within centimetres of Edwards’ 18.29m record, set back at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg, the American says his eyes remain firmly focused on the mark.
His next shot at taking the Brit’s title as the world’s best ever triple jumper comes tomorrow (July 22) at the Müller Anniversary Games in the same stadium in which he claimed Olympic gold four years ago. To break the record in Edwards’ own back yard is something Taylor says would make the achievement extra special.
“Every time I touch a track that’s my mind-set, I’m going for the world record, why not do it on Mr Edwards’ soil? I’ve got the stadium record here and I’m going here to break it,” Taylor added.
“He sees what’s there. The 20-year anniversary would have been a nice statement but then there’s also London 2017. I’m not saying that I’m going to wait another year. If it happens, it happens, but I’m going after it every single time.”