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Christian Taylor shifts focus from triple jump to the track

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Christian Taylor, a two-time Olympic triple jump champion, plans to race the 400m throughout this season, making him one of the busiest track and field athletes in the so-called fallow year.

This is the only summer in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or a world outdoor championships.

“It kind of opened up the opportunity to try something different and just kind of recharge,” Taylor said Thursday, noting Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton‘s 400m hurdles foray in 2014, “looking forward to the next three years being very serious and championship-focused.”

After winning a third straight global title at 2017 Worlds, Taylor told his coach, Rana Reider, he had something else in mind in 2018. Reider has also coached sprinters, including world 200m champion Dafne Schippers.

“[Reider] was like, the last three years have been pretty solid, what would you like to do?” Taylor said. “I said, I really think I can run 44 seconds. He was like, all right, let’s do it.”

Taylor could reach his goal of breaking 45 seconds at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai on Saturday (live on NBC Sports Gold at 6:10 a.m. ET and NBCSN at 7).

“It’s almost going to be a check off my bucket list if I’m able to break the 45-second barrier,” said Taylor, whose focus the previous several years was on a different number — 18.29 meters, Jonathan Edwards‘ triple jump world record (Taylor’s personal best is 18.21, a cigarette’s length shy of Edwards).

Taylor opened his outdoor campaign clocking 45.48 and 45.44 in March and April at meets at the University of Florida, his alma mater.

His personal best is 45.17 from 2014, the last fallow year and one in which Taylor’s schedule was to focus on the 400m through May and then return to the triple jump.

This season, Taylor plans to race the 400m at least five times, including at the USATF Outdoor Championships in June and hopefully more if he receives invites to summer European meets.

A 44.99-second 400m would not put Taylor in the top 100 Americans all-time in the event, but it would have placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic Trials final. Five other Americans have already broken 45 this year, and 12 broke 45 last year.

He’ll continue to contest the triple jump every time it’s offered in the Diamond League.

Taylor’s focus on sprinting risks defeats in the triple jump, where competition this year may be the greatest of Taylor’s career.

Taylor’s longtime American rival — two-time Olympic silver medalist Will Claye — won the world indoor title in Taylor’s absence in March.

Taylor’s most recent international rivals — Cuban-born Pedro Pablo Pichardo and Frenchman Teddy Tamgho — could both compete regularly this season for the first time since 2013.

Pichardo, back after switching representation to Portugal, beat Taylor at last week’s Diamond League opener in Doha with the farthest triple jump ever this early in a season (17.95 meters).

It marked just the third Diamond League loss for Taylor since the start of 2015. He knows his triple jumping will be affected by the increased sprint training, and he’s content with it.

“I’m going to be in a better place, happier, fresher,” Taylor said. “It’s just a different challenge, you know? That was the whole thing about this year, just trying to recharge physically and mentally. I’m trying to stretch my career out as long as possible.”

Ideally, Taylor breaks Edwards’ world record in 2019 or 2020, wins a third straight Olympic gold in Tokyo (though he values the world record more) and then turns to the 400m full-time at age 30.

“I would be able to lay down knowing I did everything I could in the triple jump,” Taylor said.

How serious is he taking the 400m?

“The first person I hit up was Wayde,” Taylor said of Olympic champion and world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa. “What can I do to break this [45-second] barrier? I’m not trying to run 43.0. Just give me a breakdown of the race or things to focus on.”

Americans LaShawn Merritt and Vernon Norwood have been helpful in recent years as well. 

If Taylor breaks 45 seconds this year, he becomes a more intriguing candidate for a 4x400m relay at the 2019 Worlds or 2020 Olympics. In 2014, Taylor ran the 4x400m for the U.S. at the IAAF World Relays.

At the 2019 Worlds, the men’s 4x400m and the triple jump final are in the same session. But the debut of the mixed-gender 4x400m is a week later.

The mixed 4x400m is also on the Olympic program for the first time in Tokyo.

Taylor isn’t thinking that far ahead yet. He hopes more 400m races are in his near future. What he does on Saturday could play a big part in that.

“Every time I run, it opens or closes doors for other opportunities to run again,” he said.

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MORE: Five events to watch at Shanghai Diamond League

Alina Zagitova wins Rostelecom Cup; Gracie Gold withdraws

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova dominated the Rostelecom Cup, while Gracie Gold withdrew before Saturday’s free skate at her first competition in 22 months, citing emotional stress.

Zagitova skated a flawed free, but still totaled 222.95 points and prevailed by 24.94 over countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Zagitova qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international competition, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Gold, coming back from treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, was in last place of 10 skaters after struggling with jumps in Friday’s short program.

Gold, a Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion, later tweeted that she withdrew because competing in the free skate would be damaging to her mental health and confidence.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture,” was tweeted from Gold’s account. “Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but skating my short program last night might have topped it. I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months.”

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Nathan Chen headlining Internationaux de France, the last event before the Grand Prix Final.

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, is undefeated in three events this season and owns the world’s top overall score (238.43) by a whopping 14.12 points. However, Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira has the highest total on the Grand Prix of 224.31.

Zagitova struggled Saturday with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination and doubled a flip at the end of her free skate.

Her primary rival last season, countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva, has finished second or third in her four competitions in the last year and likely must reach the podium next week in France for a chance at the Grand Prix Final and her first matchup with Zagitova since PyeongChang.

It’s likely that no U.S. woman makes the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year, after never previously going back-to-back years without a qualifier. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell likely must win in France to reach the Final.

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s event, hours after twisting his right ankle in a hard practice fall. Hanyu hopped on a crutch backstage and said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals later in December. More here on Hanyu’s day.

Russian favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won the pairs’ and ice dance titles, respectively, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov, two-time world medalists, posted 220.25 points, moving up to No. 2 in the world behind French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who were not in the Rostelecom field. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing this fall. Earlier Saturday, Tarasova received five stitches after cutting her chin in a practice crash into the boards.

In dance, Stepanova and Bukin tallied 199.43, keeping them close to U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in the world rankings. Those two couples face off for the first time this season at the Grand Prix Final.

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, competes next week at the top international level for the first time since winning a third world title in March. They are not eligible for the Grand Prix Final after withdrawing from last week’s NHK Trophy due to Cizeron’s back injury.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner on her competitive future, coaching

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Rostelecom Cup, hops on crutch to press conference

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Yuzuru Hanyu won Rostelecom Cup by nearly 30 points, then hopped on a crutch backstage.

The double Olympic champion twisted his right ankle in a hard practice fall Saturday morning, then several hours later had the highest-scoring free skate with three quadruple jumps.

Hanyu said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final in three weeks — and a showdown with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno and, likely, world champion Nathan Chen according to The Associated Press.

“It really hurts,” Hanyu said, according to Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “This injury made me change my program, and sadly I couldn’t perform the way I wanted. I could have done better.”

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Hanyu apologized to a TV camera following his free skate, after falling and popping an Axel on his last two jumps.

Last November, Hanyu damaged right ankle ligaments in a practice fall, forcing him off the ice for more than a month. He said this injury is not as bad. Still, coach Brian Orser said “it was a big question” whether Hanyu would withdraw before the free skate, according to Olympic Channel.

Hanyu endured, taking out the quadruple loop that he fell on in practice but still adding 10 points to his lead from Friday’s short program. For the first time in nine seasons, Hanyu won his two Grand Prix Series qualifying events, cruising into December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili took second, followed by Japanese Kazuki Tomono.

Two other men who came to Moscow with Grand Prix Final hopes — Russian Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian Keegan Messing — struggled in Friday’s short program and could not get onto the podium, placing fourth and fifth. They won’t be at the Final, assuming Chen finishes in the top six at next week’s event in France.

Rostelecom Cup continues later Saturday with the free programs for ice dance, pairs and women, streaming live on NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on her future, role as coach