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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

U.S. Olympic 3×3 basketball qualifying teams named with former NBA player, WNBA stars

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Former NBA player Robbie Hummel and WNBA stars lead U.S. Olympic qualifying teams in the new Olympic event of 3×3 basketball.

The four-man and four-woman teams will compete in a global qualifier in India in March, each favored to grab one of three available Olympic berths per gender for the U.S.

Hummel, who unretired to become world champion in 3×3, is joined on the U.S. Olympic men’s qualifying team by Team Princeton teammates Canyon Barry and Kareem Maddox, plus Dominique Jones, who has played with Team Harlem. Team Princeton is guided by an investment firm CEO who once beat Michael Jordan one-on-one.

Last year, Hummel, Maddox and Barry (one of Rick Barry‘s sons) were part of a team that won the world title.

The U.S. women’s 3×3 qualifying roster is made up of WNBA stars Napheesa Collier, Stefanie DolsonAllisha Gray and Kelsey Plum. The U.S.’ top-ranked 3×3 player, as of last month, is Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, who can’t play internationally this spring as she is in the thick of the NCAA season.

Olympic teams will not necessarily be made up of players from the qualifying tournament.

If the U.S. qualifies for Tokyo, it will then choose its roster(s) in a similar fashion to its traditional basketball teams — via selection committee. It’s unlikely active NBA players will be eligible.

Like with the qualifying tournament, two of the four Olympic players must be ranked in the top 10 among Americans in FIBA 3×3 rankings (as of a May 22 cutoff).

In 3×3, games last 10 minutes, or until one team reaches 21 points. Games are played on a half-court with a 12-second shot clock, and offense immediately turns to defense after a team scores.

MORE: Kobe Bryant embraced the Olympics, on and off the court

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First U.S. sailors qualify for Olympics; gold medalist misses on tiebreak

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The first five members of the U.S. Olympic sailing team were finalized this past weekend. The last American sailor to win an Olympic title missed on a tiebreaker.

Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea (49er FX), Anna Weis and Riley Gibbs (Nacra 17) and Charlie Buckingham (Laser) qualified after world championships competition concluded in Australia. The U.S. Olympic roster across all sports is now at 43 qualified athletes.

The closest race for a U.S. Olympic spot came in 49er FX. Roble and Shea edged Paris Henken and 2008 Olympic champion Anna Tobias on a tiebreak. Roble and Shea, both first-time Olympic qualifiers, won Saturday’s medal race and earned an overall bronze medal.

That put the two U.S. duos in a tie in Olympic qualifying — combining placements from the 2019 and 2020 Championships, according to TeamUSA.org. The tiebreak went to Roble and Shea for having the better finish at this year’s worlds.

Tobias, a 37-year-old who won the individual 2008 Olympic Laser Radial as Anna Tunnicliffe, came out of retirement in a bid for a third Olympics. She left competitive sailing in 2014, took up CrossFit competitions and returned to crew for Henken more than two years ago.

“We are very sad and upset,” was posted on Tobias’ Instagram, “but we wish them [Roble and Shea] the best of luck.”

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