Eugene: Taylor & Claye Ready to Rock Again at Pre Classic
They would be headliners anywhere, and the renewal of their 43-meet rivalry can make some fans overlook the fact that the loaded Pre Classic field includes a full sweep of medalists from last year’s World Championships and the Rio Olympics as well as seven of the world’s top 10 in 2017 as ranked by Track & Field News.
In the triple jump, Taylor vs. Claye is a matchup never to be missed – especially at Hayward Field, where the two have found uncanny ways to top each other at the last two Pre Classics. In those combined 12 rounds of competition, they achieved 7 lead changes and 8 world-leading marks.
Christian Taylor, 27, is one of the Diamond League’s main attractions with six overall Trophies (only pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, with seven, has more). In the triple jump, he has few peers – and those are legends. Only Viktor Saneyev can top Taylor’s two Olympic gold medals, and only Saneyev and world record holder Jonathan Edwards can top his six times at the top of T&FN’s world rankings. No one can match Taylor’s three World Championships golds.
Taylor is history’s second-longest triple jumper at 59-9 (18.21) – the world record of 60-¼ (18.29) by Edwards was set in 1995 when Taylor was just 5. His hard-fought three Pre Classic wins – all over former University of Florida teammate Claye in thrilling competitions – matches Hall-of-Famer Willie Banks for the most in Pre Classic history in this event.
Will Claye, 26, won the World Indoor Championships last month in England, repeating gold at the 2012 World Indoor. He was only 20 then and later in the London Olympics claimed triple jump silver and long jump bronze that made him the first man since 1936 to win Olympic medals in both horizontal jumps.
Claye has battled Taylor since they were college freshmen in 2009, originally at different schools until Claye transferred from Oklahoma to Florida as the horizontal jumps world took a Gator flavoring in 2011. They finished 1-2 in the World Championships in Daegu that year, and every Olympics and outdoor Worlds since has seen both on the podium except 2013 (Taylor was only 4th). The head-to-head rivalry had always been tied or in Claye’s favor until last year at the World Championships. Taylor now owns the slimmest of leads, 22-21.
Claye has clearly been a major part of the two best Pre Classic triple jumps. In 2016, he took the lead in round 6 at 57-7½ (17.56) only to be overtaken by Taylor’s 58-3¼ (17.76), breaking the Hayward Field record set by Claye at the 2014 Pre Classic.
Last year, both went over 59 feet (17.98) with Claye’s two best marks of his life (topped by a wind-aided 59-2¾/18.05) just short of Taylor’s 59-5/18.11, the best ever achieved on U.S. soil. Claye’s mark was merely the farthest ever achieved without winning.
Portugal’s Nelson Évora can match Taylor as an Olympic and World Championships gold medalist – back in 2007 and 2008. But he stood on the podium last summer in London as bronze medalist behind Taylor and Claye at the World Championships. Last month he was on the podium again as bronze medalist when Claye won the World Indoor Championships.
Évora will turn 34 later this month – generally old by world-class triple jump standards, but WR holder Edwards was 35 when he won his last gold medal in 2001. This will be Évora’s first Pre Classic – his only other U.S. competition came in 2016 at World Indoor Championships in Portland, where he was 4th.
China’s Bin Dong, 29, won the World Indoor gold at Portland in 2016. He saved his best performance for Rio, where he claimed Olympic bronze at 57-8¼ (17.58), just a centimeter away from the Asian record 57-8½ set by Li Yanxi, a previous holder of the Pre Classic meet record. His two medals are the only ones at the world level for China in this event.
Chris Benard, who will turn 29 later this month, enjoyed his best season last year, finishing 6th at the London World Championships final, his highest finish on an obviously loaded U.S. team. The 2016 Olympian won the inaugural Pac-12 title in 2012 at Hayward Field as an Arizona State senior.
Max Hess of Germany is the youngest in the field at 21. He scored his best medal with a silver at the 2016 World Indoor Championships in Portland. That silver has another Oregon companion, joining the one he claimed in 2014 at the World Junior Championships at Hayward Field. He has nifty gold also – winning the 2016 European Championships as a 19-year-old.
Jean-Marc Pontvianne, 23, is the French champ who finished 6th in last year’s Pre Classic with just one effort. He made his only major final last summer in London and compiled a season good enough to rank No. 10 by T&FN.
Almir dos Santos of Brazil, 24, had a torrid indoor season in 2018. He set personal bests in each of his first 3 meets, then his 4th PB in a row (57-1½/17.41) earned him the silver medal at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham last month.
|Men’s Triple Jump||Personal Best|
|Almir Dos Santos||Brazil||57-1¼||17.41m|