Christian Taylor sails to a fourth world title in Doha (© AFP/Getty Images)
Of all people, Will Claye knows best that a competition with Christian Taylor isn’t over until it’s over.
For the first half of the men’s triple jump final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, Claye pretty much had it all his own way. The US jumper’s opening leap of 17.61m gave him the early lead and applied pressure on all the other finalists.
Cuba’s Christian Napoles followed it with 17.36m, then Portugal’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo bounded out to 17.49m. Already, after just five jumps, it was clear that the bronze medal was going to be won with a better mark than was required in London two years ago. And the competition was just getting started.
Claye went out to 17.72m in the second round, his best ever jump in a World Championships final, to extend his lead. Burkina Faso’s Hugues Fabrice Zango then jumped into a medal position with a second-round leap of 17.46m.
Taylor, meanwhile, recorded his second successive foul. The pressure was on the defending champion to produce a valid jump in the third round just to remain in the competition.
Claye went out to 17.53m in round three while Pichardo matched his first-round mark of 17.49m. Moments later, it was Taylor’s turn to perform.
The 29-year-old responded well and, taking off 31 centimetres behind the plasticine, bounded out to 17.42m and breathed a sigh of relief as he stood up from the pit. With his place secured for the next three rounds, Taylor’s next goal was to move up the leader board.
He didn’t have to wait long before he accomplished that as he flew out to 17.86m in round four to take the lead, taking off 15 centimetres behind the line. Pichardo and Claye responded with 17.62m and 17.74m respectively, their best jumps of the night up to that point, but it wasn’t enough to catch Taylor.
Napoles, meanwhile, pulled up on his fourth attempt with what appeared to be a hamstring injury and was later taken off the runway in a wheelchair.
Two-time Olympic champion Taylor extended his lead in round five, sailing out to 17.92m and, ever the gent, apologising to the officials for flicking a bit of sand on them on landing.
Pichardo followed with 17.60m and Claye matched his leap from the previous round with 17.74m, but once again their positions stayed the same. Zango improved to 17.56m to close the gap on Pichardo.
Into the final round, Zango nailed his best jump of the night and, taking off 16 centimetres behind the line, landed at 17.66m to break his own African record and move into the bronze medal position.
Pichardo, having just been bumped out of the medals, ended his series with 17.00m and so remained in fourth place. Not that it’s much consolation, but it was the first time a jump beyond 17.60m has not been enough for a medal at any championships.
The only medals left to decide were the gold and silver ones. Claye, having jumped between 17.53m and 17.74m with his five previous jumps, completed his stunning series with a 17.66m leap to secure second place and take his fourth outdoor global silver medal behind his former college teammate Taylor. Claye had previously finished second at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games as well as the 2017 World Championships.
Taylor ended his night with another solid effort, 17.54m, but his gold medal had already been secured before taking that jump. It was his fourth world title, adding to the ones he won in 2011, 2015 and 2017.
His winning mark of 17.92m, meanwhile, gives him a career top-10 average of 17.96m, moving him ahead of world record-holder Jonathan Edwards.
“Doha is a very special city for me,” said Taylor, who produced one of his four 18-metre jumps in Doha in 2015. “I always get a lot of love here and conditions are perfect. I wanted a farther jump, but I am grateful for the win.”
Claye, who leads the 2019 world list with 18.14m, was gracious in defeat. “The runway was very fast and I had to adapt and slow down a bit at the run up,” he said. “It was a matter of hitting the board properly and that was what Christian managed better today. I’m grateful for the medal. I don’t want to let people down and I know my friends and family will be proud of me.”
Zango, who is coached by 2013 world champion Teddy Tamgho, was delighted to win Burkina Faso’s first medal at a senior global championships.
“Finally Burkina Faso enters into world athletics,” he said. “I hope many medals will follow. They are celebrating now in Burkina Faso and I can only imagine how it will be when I get there.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF