Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 16 August 2016.
As with the Women’s Triple Jump Final just 2 days previously, the Men’s Final produced the 2016 World Leading mark, a string of PBs and a National Record, as the outcome still hung on a knife-edge until the last 2 jumps of the competition.
Reigning Champion Christian Taylor went into the event as the outstanding jumper of 2016, though he had suffered defeat at the American Olympic Trials to London 2012 silver medallist Will Claye hinting that he could still be vulnerable in Rio. Claye, however, seemed sluggish in qualifying, taking 3 jumps to confirm his spot in the Final, and with Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo scratching from the competition completely at the last minute through injury, indications were that Taylor’s main challenge on the day could come from World Indoor Champion Bin Dong of China, who’d taken just one jump of 17.10m – in leggings – to book his place in today’s contest. Dong confirmed his form in the Final as he bounded out to a new PB of 17.58m with his 1st round jump to put pressure on Taylor before his first effort.
In London 2012 Taylor had begun the Final with 2 No Jumps before nervously progressing into the top 8 on his 3rd attempt. Following that experience he could have been excused for playing safe with his first attempt in Rio, but demonstrating the determination and belief that underlie his position as World Number 1, he charged down the runway and reached out to a new WL of 17.86m. Game over? Claye didn’t think so and continued the sequence of outstanding first round jumps, defying the questionable competition early start time (9.50am) as he improved his PB by a single centimetre with 17.76m, just 10cm off the lead.
Round 2 began with yet another PB in the competition, and National Record, as John Murillo of Colombia broke 17 metres for the first time in his career with 17.09m to move into 4th spot. Dong and Claye both fouled while Taylor hit 17.77m into a 0.8m/s headwind to show how much he was in the groove. All of the top 3 fouled their 3rd round efforts as they pushed for every extra centimetre, though Dong may have pushed too hard as he limped out of the pit and seemed to applaud the crowd as he returned to his seat. One jumper who did improve in round 3 was the 2008 Olympic Champion, Portugal’s Nelson Évora. He was enjoying his best competition of the year having qualified with a SB of 16.99m and leaping 16.90m and 16.93m in rounds 1 & 2 respectively. On his next attempt he leapt another SB of 17.03m to lie in 5th spot.
Dong didn’t take his 4th attempt, nor any subsequent efforts, confirming that injury had ended his challenge for gold and he would have to sit and wait to see if he would still take bronze. That left Claye and Taylor battling it out for top spot and Claye produced 17.61m in round 4 to show he was still threatening and Taylor duly responded with another leap of 17.77m, demonstrating that he was ready to reply to anything anyone threw at him.
China’s Xu Xiaolong set a new Season’s Best in round 5, leaping 17.13m to move into 4th spot, while Guyana’s Troy Doris hit his best of the day with 16.90m in 7th spot. Claye and Taylor both fouled their 5th attempts as they pushed the limits, and with no-one else in the field improving with their last round efforts Dong was confirmed as the bronze medal winner and it would all come down to the 2 Americans’ last round jumps to decide who would take the Olympic crown.
Claye took to the runway for his jump and, giving it all he had, he stretched out with his feet landing around the 18 metre mark. Unfortunately he sat back as he landed and after a nervous wait his mark came up – 17.55m – and Taylor’s victory was confirmed. Claye took his second consecutive silver in the Olympic Triple Jump but he also gained a fiancée as he climbed into the stands at the event climax to (successfully) propose to American athlete Queen Harrison.
With the knowledge of victory in his mind as he stood at the end of the runway, Taylor still had one goal in his mind – the 18.29m World Record of Jonathan Edwards he had come so close to topping at last year’s World Championships. Could he cap off his Olympic victory with a new global record as he had hinted was his desire all season? Powering down the runway his step phased landed closer to the pit than in Beijing last year and he reached out to cut the sand beyond the WR line:
Unfortunately the red flag was raised, but replays showed that he was only fractionally into the plasticine on take-off. Edwards’ record had survived again – just – but Christian Taylor had successfully defended the Men’s Olympic Triple Jump title, the first man to do so since Viktor Saneyev 40 years ago. Can Taylor go on to match Saneyev’s 3 golds at the event? Tune into Tokyo in 4 years to see the next chapter in his Olympic legacy.