Christopher Taylor on his way to winning the 400m at the IAAF World Youth Championships, Cali 2015 (© Getty Images)
Anytime someone supplants Usain Bolt, it’s newsworthy. Even if it’s in an event the double sprint world record-holder doesn’t particularly enjoy, like the 400m. It’s not one that Christopher Taylor, the freshly-minted world youth champion over the distance, is exactly fond of either.
“No,” he said, with no hesitation, when asked if he loved the full-lap event. “I don’t love the 400 metres.”
A smile did crack his serious demeanour when he shared a slightly fuller explanation. “I’m training too hard!”
That may change when the soft-spoken youngster becomes more accustomed to the title he claimed in Cali last week when he underscored an earlier superlative; that of being the event’s fastest 15-year-old ever. And when he becomes more used to comparisons to the two-time 100 and 200m Olympic champion after his 45.30 performance in the Cali semi-finals elevated him to the No. 6 position among youths all-time, one notch ahead of Bolt.
For now though, he laughs off any comparison.
“No, I’m not trying to become the next Usain Bolt,” he told a reporter in Cali, as if the suggestion were some sort of joke. Instead, he may simply be charting his own course.
Taylor took up the sport in fifth grade at age 11, running the 100m and 200m and immediately felt a strong attraction, despite his early passions for football and cricket.
“When I was in grade six I went to the national primary school championships and broke some records, so from there I went on with the 400 metres,” Taylor remembers. “I started to perform well so I decided to continue.” More age group records continued to fall.
As a student at Calabar High School, whose alumni include 400m legends Herb McKenley and Arthur Wint among other track luminaries, Taylor has made immediate waves, but none that quite prepared him, his coach Michael Clarke, and other observers, for what he would accomplish this year.
Taylor carried a 48.80 personal best into 2015, a mark he crushed in his first race of the season. Skipping 47-second territory, he clocked a sensational 46.87 in an under-17 race in Kingston on 7 February, a personal best time he obliterated exactly one month later at the Carifta Games trials, again in Kingston, where he clocked 45.69 to become history’s fastest 15-year-old.
“Ground-breaking, exhilarating and unbelievable,” his coach told the Jamaica Gleaner after his sub-46-second run.
Taylor sliced that down to 45.55 in an all-comers race in Kingston on 13 June to set the stage for a true international breakout in Cali. Once in Colombia, he underscored his favourite’s role with a 46.30 run in the heats, despite a minor hamstring injury.
“I felt it in the last 100 metres of the race,” Taylor said. Fortunately, any discomfort subsided in the subsequent rounds.
In the semis he was exactly one second faster at 45.30 to move past Bolt on the world youth all-time list, a position he solidified in the final.
Trailing Josephus Lyles of the USA with about 150 metres remaining, Taylor had to dig deep. He pulled ahead to win by a comfortable margin in 45.27, his second personal best on the Cali track in as many days.
“I didn’t expect to run that fast,” he said. “I just did what I had to do.” Yes, he also admitted, hard training helped.
Taylor said he wasn’t thinking about an assault on the 45.14 world youth best set by USA’s Obea Moore two decades ago. More important, he said, was to keep the title in Jamaican possession. As for the youth best, he’ll have next season to tackle that if he wishes. But he’s already thinking bigger. Much bigger.
“I’ll look towards the World Junior Champs next year and then after that, the World Championships and maybe the Olympics.”
By then, he might even begin to love his event.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF