Series14 Aug 2017

My greatest challenge – Christian Taylor


Christian Taylor at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)

World and Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor is one of the world’s most high profile athletes. Here the US athlete, who claimed his third world title in the event in London on 10 August, explains how the major technical changes he made in 2013-14 were his greatest obstacle.

Making the take-off switch from left leg to right

“For me, the greatest challenge of my career was switching from jumping from my left leg to my right. I have always had a weakness in my knees, which was something passed down from me by mom and grandma, who have had also had their issues.

"My knee is not smooth and round like most people; it is quite sharp and this causes a lot of crunching and irritation in the cartilage. Since puberty I have had knee problems – an issue which has become much worse by increasing those forces on the knee 15-fold by triple jumping.

"Persistent problems with the patella tendon had created inflammation which hampered my ability to train and compete. It all came to a head at the 2013 World Championships when in Moscow, as defending champion, I finished back in fourth. I said that wasn’t acceptable. I dreamed of chasing the world record but at that stage of my career I didn’t even know if I could take all six jumps in a competition.

"I had never had surgery on the knee. I’m not the sort of person to take short cuts, preferring to take time off and correct the problem through strengthening, so going the surgery route was not what I wanted.

"Instead my coach (Rana Reider) and I made the decision to jump from that other leg. I did this for the first time at the 2013 Brussels IAAF Diamond League, where I jumped 16.89m. I thought, if I could jump nearly 17 metres jumping for the first time off my right leg, then all hope is not lost.

"It was far from an easy challenge. For one, the timing of the jump is completely different as was my weight distribution. I was used to coming into the board and positioning my body to jump off the left leg but now I had to be prepared to shift my weight in the opposite direction. I had to completely re-learn these movements.

"I had to strip everything back to basics and take baby steps. I would start by doing a standing triple jump and then maybe a triple jump off a one-step approach. It wasn’t easy and one of the toughest parts was dealing with the media. I was losing every week and they kept saying, ‘Can Christian return?’

"I reckon it took eight solid months to consider myself a triple jumper off the right foot. I jumped 17.51m to win in Zurich at the end of the 2014 season and that was a huge moment for me. That made me believe my right foot was no longer the weaker foot and that jumping 18m was a possibility.”

In 2015 Taylor jumped beyond 18 metres on three occasions, highlighted by a mighty 18.21m effort – the second longest jump in history – to win the world title in Beijing.

Steve Landells for the IAAF