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Christian Taylor takes his last triple jumps with eyes on final Olympics in Paris

Christian Taylor, whose six combined individual Olympic and world titles are the most of any active American track and field athlete, is taking his final triple jumps this year.

Taylor, 33, announced at the start of this outdoor season that it will be his last.

From 2011 to 2019, Taylor won two Olympic gold medals and four world titles in the triple jump.

In an event where the elite leap nearly 60 feet, Taylor at his best came the length of a cigarette shy of the world record set by Brit Jonathan Edwards in 1995.

Taylor hoped to make Tokyo his third and final Olympics, but that plan changed on May 19, 2021, two months out from the Games.

At a meet in Ostrava, Czechia, he took four jumps and tore his right Achilles on two of them (one horizontal tear, one vertical tear).

“When I went on the medical table, the doctor was like, ‘I’m sorry, but there’s not going to be any Tokyo for you,’” Taylor recalled.

He underwent surgery, took two months before he walked normally again and became determined to extend his career through the 2024 Paris Games.

“With all the success and joy this sport has given me and all the experiences I’ve had, it just shouldn’t end that way, right?” he said of his injury.

Among the many well wishes Taylor received, he remembers a phone call less than one month after the surgery while he rehabbed in a hyperbaric chamber. It came from Will Claye, who took silver behind Taylor in the triple jump at the Olympics in 2012 and 2016. Taylor and Claye have been friendly rivals since they were teammates at the University of Florida in 2011.

“I just wanted to be there for him in any way that I can,” Claye said in 2021.

Claye told Taylor that he could come back from the injury because Claye was in the midst of doing it himself.

Claye tore an Achilles playing pickup basketball in November 2019. When he called Taylor, he had already returned to post the best triple jump by an American in the first half of 2021. Claye then won the Tokyo Olympic Trials and placed fourth at the Games.

Taylor said one of his most challenging moments was having to watch the Tokyo Olympic men’s triple jump final as he rehabbed on an AlterG treadmill in Vienna. He lives in Austria with wife Beate Schrott, a two-time Austrian Olympian in the 100m hurdles who now coaches him.

From 2010 through 2020, Taylor triple jumped at least 17 meters every year. He went beyond 18 meters at four different meets, something no other man has done.

“He was certainly very vocal about his belief that he could break the (world) record,” Edwards said. “If he had done it, I would have been very happy for him. It was something that I was hoping was going to happen for sure.”

In May 2022, in Taylor’s first triple jump competition post-surgery, his best was 15.91 meters. He placed 18th at the 2022 World Championships and finished the year ranked outside the top 40 in the world by best jump (16.72 meters).

Taylor improved in 2023, triple jumping 16.89 meters in his first competition, which held up as his best mark of the year. He was eighth at the 2023 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, missing a world championships team for the first time in his career.

Taylor said it took him about two years post-surgery to jump with full intensity again, in part due to overcoming a mental barrier after the injury. He described the last two seasons as “humbling.” But he’s reassured by a previous comeback.

In 2013, Taylor developed left knee pain, which led to him relearn the event. He switched his triple jump pattern from left leg-left leg-right leg to right-right-left.

In his second season after switching legs, Taylor won his second world title in 2015 and recorded the second-best triple jump in history.

“So I continue to believe in my ability and know that it’s possible,” he said. “One thing I tell myself daily is, really, I’m one jump away.”

To get to Paris, Taylor likely needs to finish in the top three at the U.S. Olympic Trials from June 21-30 in Eugene, Oregon, and might also have to jump 17.22 meters, the Olympic qualifying standard, between now and the end of trials. If Taylor’s world ranking is high enough, he might not have to jump as far as 17.22.

“Other instances, the focus was breaking world records or crushing my competitors,” he said. “This time, it’s just get me to Paris. If I can get into that final, anything is possible.”

Outside of competition, Taylor is one of track and field’s most visible ambassadors.

He has been active for years with Classroom Champions, a non-profit that connects students with world-class athlete mentors. He was the founding president of The Athletics Association, which was formed in 2020 to give track and field athletes more say in decisions being made within the sport. He helps run the Christian Taylor Invitational, a prep track and field meet, held at his alma mater, Sandy Creek High School in Georgia, since 2017.

“His record speaks for itself, and his demeanor as an athlete and as an ambassador for the sport speaks for itself,” Edwards said. “He can retire with his head held high as somebody who will be very well remembered as one of the greats.”

Before he leaves, Taylor is determined to add at least one more accolade.

“There’s a significant level of gratitude that I have, but even with all that, to walk away not making a third (Olympic) team, yeah, that would be disappointing,” he said. “That’s always something I personally challenged myself to do.”