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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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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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