2-time Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor will soon spring into retirement

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Every leap these days feels more like a stroll down memory lane for triple jumper Christian Taylor.

This is the two-time Olympic champion's farewell tour and he's taking it all in. That includes selfies at every stop — from Norway to Morocco and especially this week in Oregon for the U.S. track trials. It's here, at Hayward Field, where Taylor made his first Olympic team in 2012. It's here, on Friday, where he starts his bid to make his third in his final season.

Whatever happens, it's been quite a ride for the 34-year-old whose career also includes four world championship titles and coming within eight centimeters — about the length of a credit card — of breaking the world record. That was after learning how to take off on the other leg due to a knee injury, which is essentially like a pitcher switching throwing hands mid-career.

“More than just the achievements, all the people that have believed in me and supported me, it’s beyond what I could’ve imagine,” Taylor said.

Taylor never got the chance to defend his Olympic title at the Tokyo Games in 2021. Because a month before trials, he tore his Achilles tendon. He thought it might be the end of the road.

“But as I was on the recovery table after the surgery, I was just like, yes, it’s disappointing. And yes, it's disheartening, because I had so many high expectations,” Taylor said. “But I didn’t want my career, my journey, everything, to end like that. And so that was really the motivation to come back and compete for one more Olympics."

Each meet this season has been an appreciation. A chance to explore a city, because he and his wife/coach/retired Austrian hurdler, Bea, don't know when they might be back. The couple was recently sitting at the dining room table discussing how everything is just the “last” — from visits to trips to trials.

“She’s like, ‘It’s kind of weird to think that every sprint session, every jump session is a countdown,’” Taylor said. “It's like, ‘Let’s reflect, but let’s be present in the moment.’”

Taylor has long been one of the best in the triple jump, an event that includes a sprint down the runway, followed by a hop, step and a jump into the sand pit. He won his first Olympic title at the 2012 London Games taking off on his left leg.

Soon after, he was diagnosed with severe patellar tendonitis (jumper's knee), with doctors warning him that if he didn’t switch, he could spend the rest of his life with a limp.

“They really didn’t realize that starting fresh was starting over,” explained Taylor, a multi-time NCAA All-American at the University of Florida. “I had to learn how to jump again.”

At first, things weren't smooth. But soon he was getting the hang of taking off on his right leg. And soon after that, he was jumping farther than ever.

“It’s like when you’re faced with a challenge, you really just have a choice of fight or flight,” he said. “I was like, ‘This can’t be the end of my career.'"

His leap of 18.21 meters on Aug. 27, 2015, won him a gold medal at the world championships in Beijing. It was also the second-longest in history, behind only world-record holder Jonathan Edwards' leap of 18.29 in 1995.

“I’d like to believe that at one time, if the stars were aligned, I was in a position to (break) it,” said Taylor, who has two of the top-six jumps in the event's history. “It’s frustrating being in that No. 2 spot (all time). But we’re talking No. 2 all time. So again, I can’t underplay this and I am so grateful for it. But I would be lying to say that doesn’t give me some sleepless nights when I do reflect over it."

Taylor went on to defend his Olympic title at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, leaping off his right leg. It's a feat that impressed his fellow jumpers.

“To be able to triple jump off your left and then right is insane,” long jumper Marquis Dendy said. “I don’t really think a lot of people really understand on how difficult that is. He’s up there in the GOAT (greatest of all time) debate. He’s one of the pinnacles of the triple jump.”

For years, Taylor was pushed by college teammate Will Claye, a two-time Olympic triple jump silver medalist (he also has a bronze in the long jump). And when Taylor went through his ruptured Achilles, he reached out to Claye, his friend and main rival, for support because Claye suffered a similar injury months before what would've been the original start of the Tokyo Games in 2020.

That bond, that camaraderie through track, is what Taylor is going to miss the most. His plans post-career include working closely with The Athletics Association, whose mission is to help advance and grow the sport with athletes being the priority, and attending track meets — from the stands.

“I’ve just been extremely blessed and incredibly supported,” Taylor said. “It’s just surreal that it’s almost over.”


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