A TALE OF TWO ERAS and a pair of golden epochs for America’s triple jump men. That’s the history almost any way you slice it, and the second—the one U.S. TJers are bounding through of late—is the most productive yet at the World Championships and Olympics, powered largely by history’s Nos. 2 and 3 jumpers on the all-time list, Christian Taylor and Will Claye.
As an Olympic year rises on the near horizon a talented and determined crew is pressing hard to join the two Florida alums not only on Team USA but also on the podium. Additionally, each of the challengers has overturning the formchart in mind.
The 124-year history of the U.S. men’s triple jump since the 1896 advent of the modern Olympics goes like this: James Connolly won gold at the first Games in Athens. Meyer Prinstein led Yank medal sweeps at the next two—with some nuance needed in taking St. Louis 1904 into account. International participation was spotty and Americans took the first 8 positions.
Levi Casey picked up a silver in ’28 just an inch and three-quarters shy of gold. But over the subsequent 4 decades, though, the best Games showings were scattered 4ths and 5ths, a stark contrast with showings in other disciplines.
After our World Rankings kicked off for ’47, 6 seasons passed before Walt Ashbaugh scored the first U.S. Rankings points at No. 5 in ’52. Art Walker ’66 was the nation’s first No. 3, but another decade passed before Montréal silver medalist James Butts earned the first U.S. No. 2 and the year featured a Rankings Top 10 that included more than one American for the first time.
A thaw was on: 5 scored in ’77, including a 21-year-old UCLA junior by the name of Willie Banks, who at last scored a No. 1 Ranking for the USA in ’81.
U.S. triple jumping’s first banner era was at last unfurling. Banks took silver at the inaugural World Champs in ’83 and set a World Record in ’85, 58-11½ (17.87). At the LA Olympics of ’84 Al Joyner mined the first U.S. gold in 8 decades ahead of a silver medalist named Mike Conley, an Arkansas junior.
Here the 3-bounce train really started rolling. Conley jumped to Worlds silver in ’87, Kansas State alum Kenny Harrison made history as the first U.S. outdoor world champion in ’91. And the Olympic golds of ’92 and ’96 went to Conley (who was also the ’93 world titlist) and Harrison. Let’s also not forget Charlie Simpkins, whose silver in Barcelona put him on the podium with Conley.
That was the first breakout American run. Then for 15 seasons—as Briton Jonathan Edwards, the World Record holder since the ’95 World Champs, had a brilliant turn in the limelight—quiet on the U.S. front at the majors apart from glimmering gold at the ’05 Worlds for LSU alum Walter Davis, who also went on to pick up a bronze in ’07.
At last, at the Daegu WC of ’11, came the sea change that has roared to this day: the Taylor/Claye reign. The Gator pair, both destined to go pro immediately after their junior years, brought home gold and bronze. Taylor’s winning 58-11¼ (17.96) missed Banks’s AR by a centimeter. Claye’s 57-5 (17.50) was a PR. At ages 21 and 20, they had arrived. They have never since, to borrow a Taylor metaphor, stepped off the gas.
OG/WC top-8 scoring numbers reveal the strength of the revolution the pair bounced into gear. In the 9 editions of the paramount global title meets during the Banks/Conley/Harrison/Joyner era the U.S. scored 112 points. Americans had never done anything like that before.
But the era of now shines even brighter—and that without including the World Indoor, where Claye has won twice, in the tabulation—with 7 majors (Daegu ’11, London ’12, Moscow ’13, Beijing ’15, Rio ’16, London ’17 and Doha ’19) hauling in a whopping 120 points for the U.S. And 103 of those points from the flying bounds of Taylor and Claye.
The OG/WC scoring breakdown since ’11: 1. Taylor 65 points; 2. Claye 44; 3. Omar Craddock 4; =4. Chris Benard & Donald Scott 3.
Without further ado, then, the jumpers to watch in the impending Olympic Trials war for Tokyo Games berths, noting that being part of the Gator pedigree (see sidebar) looms large:
The Bull Gators In The Room
Christian Taylor, 30 years old, 6-2¾/165 (1.90/75). No. 2 on the world all-time list at 59-9 (18.21). Eight-time No. 1 World Ranker since ’11, 10-time U.S. No. 1. Gold medalist at the London ’12 and Rio ’16 Olympics and 4-time world champion. Coach: Rana Reider.
Will Claye, 29, 5-10¾/150 (1.80/68). No. 3 world all-time at 59-6¼ (18.14), which he jumped in ’19. World Ranked each season since ’11 with No. 2s in ’12, ’14, ’16, ’17 & ’19. World Indoor gold medalist in ’12 & ’16. Four outdoor World Champs medals since ’11 (silvers in ’17 & ’19 and bronzes in ’11 & ’13), 2 Olympic silvers plus a long jump bronze at London ’12. Coach: Jeremy Fischer. (Continued below)
Other ’19 U.S. Rankers
Omar Craddock, 29, 5-10/174 (1.78/79). No. 8 all-time U.S. at 58-¼ (17.68). Another Florida Gator, won the ’12 & ’13 NCAA crowns plus the ’12 Indoor. World Ranked ’15 (3), ’18 (5) & ’19 (5). 4th at ’15 World Championships. Coach: Al Joyner.
Donald Scott, 28, 6-0/185 (1.83/84). 57-2¼ (17.43) PR and 58-2½w (17.74), both in ’19 and the latter to win his second straight USATF outdoor crown. World Ranked No. 6 in ’18 & ’19. 6th at the ’19 World Champs, the Eastern Michigan alum also claimed the last two USATF indoor titles. Coach: Sterling Roberts.
Chris Benard, 30, 6-2¾/174 (1.90/79). 57-4¼ (17.48) PR placing 2nd at ’17 USATF. Arizona State alum and 3-time World Ranker: ’16 (10), ’17 (7), ’18 (7). Placed 3rd at the ’16 Olympic Trials, 6th at ’17 World Champs. Coach: Jeremy Fischer.
KeAndre Bates, 24, 5-11¼/165 (1.81/75). 56-3¾ (17.16) PR to place 3rd at USATF ’18. U.S. Ranked 2016–19 (10/9/7/6) and in long jump ’16 (7) & ’17 (5). Yet another(!) Florida alum, he won the NCAA crown in ’17 plus the LJ in & out that year. 3rd USATF Indoor, 5th USATF outdoors in ’19. 4th USATF Indoor this year with undercover best 55-9¼ (17.00). Coach: Nic Petersen.
Chris Carter, 31, 6-1¼/176 (1.86/80). 56-4½ (17.18) PR in ’16. Houston alum has U.S. Ranked 7 times since ’11 with No. 4s in ’11 & ’14. Three-time USATF Indoor champ, he placed 2nd in that meet in ’19 and 6th at the Outdoor.
Armani Wallace, 23. The Florida State grad hit his lifetime best, 55-9 (16.99), placing 3rd at the NCAA as a senior. Earned his first U.S. Ranking, No. 8, in ’19. Also grabbed 4th at the ’19 NCAA Indoor and 12th at USATF in a year of great improvement from 53-11¼ (16.44) as a junior. 7th at ’20 USA Indoor.
John Warren, 24, 5-10/161 (1.78/73). U.S. Ranked in ’18 & ’19 (No. 9 both years) after transferring from Missouri to Southern Mississippi for his junior & senior seasons. Notched his PR 55-2 (16.81) indoors in ’19 and nearly matched it with 55-¾ (16.78) to place 4th at the NCAA. Tabbed himself as one to watch with his ’19 USATF 7th. Last winter placed 5th at the USATF Indoor with 54-6½ (16.62).
Matthew O’Neal, 26, 6-¾/163 (1.85/74). The ’16 South Florida grad reached his 56-2 (17.12) PR and 56-8½w (17.28) in ’17. In ’16 as a Bulls senior he was 2nd in the NCAA Indoor, 3rd at the Outdoor and 5th at the Olympic Trials. Also 4th at the ’17 USATF Champs and 5th in ’18. 8th in ’19 to finish a limited season.
Two More To Watch
There’s yet another Florida grad! Marquis Dendy, 27, 6-2¾/165 (1.90/75). He leaped 57-5 (17.5) PR and also 58-1¼w (17.71) in winning the ’15 NCAA, just one of his 7 collegiate crowns indoors and out in the TJ & LJ. He has since focused on the long jump with great success earning World Indoor gold in ’16 and bronze in ’18. He didn’t jump at all in ’19. Don’t count him out in the LJ, but the TJ, where he hasn’t competed since hurting himself in ’16 (see photo), is much more of a question mark. Coach: Nic Petersen.
And for a real dark-horse pick, allow us to cite the year’s top prep tripler, Sean Dixon-Bodie. His PR is a mere 52-1¾ (15.89) at this point, but he’s only 18, stands 6-5 (1.96) and is now part of the high-powered LSU program, which has turned out a lot of TJ talent.
You guessed it. Assuming Taylor and Claye are healthy this is a whale of a team to make. The dynamic will be different from the ’17 & ’19 WC Trials where Taylor appeared at the Nationals and nothing more. For the global title meets those years he had Wild Card berths as defending world champ both years. Remember, at the ’18 USATF, an “off year,” he contested the 400. This time he’ll need to jump. Far.
Claye is sure to be ready to do the same. Scott, Craddock & Benard can unleash serious damage on the runway, and the two giants who lead the event internationally know full well youngsters can burst to the top just as they did nearly a decade ago.
Taylor and Claye have shown the way. Just as did those stars of that first 1980s–90s golden era—Banks, Conley, Harrison and Joyner—three of whom are all still working in the sport in administration or coaching.
“They laid the path that inspired me,” Taylor says. “What I want to do moving forward is I want to be like them. People say, ‘Do you remember when Willie did the clap and that changed field?’
“I mean, this changed field. Not just triple jump, but this changed field, how participants get into the ring, getting on the runway and getting the crowd engaged. I want people to look back on my career and say, ‘Do you remember when Christian competed? Do you remember what he brought to the sport?’ And it’s people like them that inspired me to do what I’m doing.”
And the cycle of inspiration keeps turning. Accelerated in the Internet age, says Craddock: “Now that we’re here, it’s our turn. Right? When I was entering into high school YouTube was just starting to come around. But now, we’re those guys, but now we have Instagram and YouTube, and now we get these young athletes asking us, ‘How do I do this? And how do I do that?’
“Right now I know that the competition in our event is hot. It’s entertaining. And it makes it a lot more fun for us.”