By Jack Stubbs
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Christian Taylor of the United States retained his Olympic men’s triple jump title on Tuesday, recording the longest jump of the year to claim the podium top spot.
Taylor, the defending Olympic and world champion, made his mark of 17.86 meters with his first jump, staking a claim for the gold medal that his rivals were unable to match.
His American team mate Will Claye took silver and China’s Dong Bin went home with bronze after they recorded 17.76 and 17.58 respectively, also at their first attempts.
“The job is done,” Taylor told reporters. “I never thought on my first jump that would be the gold medal.
“I wanted it so much. It came together, the stars aligned.”
In what soon developed into a predictable tussle for silver and gold from within the U.S. team, the rest of the field in Rio fell behind to join the spectators watching Taylor and Claye re-enact their Olympic duel from London four years ago.
“It’s just who executes better on that day. We’re equally talented,” Claye said. “We’re all beatable. I just have to come back and get my win next time.”
A notable absentee was world silver medalist Pedro Pablo Pichardo of Cuba, who would have been a challenger for the gold having posted several marks at 18 meters and further in 2015.
The 23-year-old has reportedly struggled with an ankle injury and opted not to jump in Rio, smoothing the way for Taylor.
Taylor’s road to Rio has been a rocky one after a worsening knee injury forced him to switch his takeoff leg following his 2012 Olympic triumph, a radical move in one of the most technically challenging events in athletics.
After a “game-changing” 2015, the 26-year-old was once again clearing the 18-metre mark, making a jump of 18.21 meters at the Beijing world championships to claim second place in the all-time list behind Briton Jonathan Edwards’s 1995 world record of 18.29.
Speaking before the Games, Taylor had said the world record was within his sights but his winning mark on Tuesday fell more than 40 cms short.
“I wanted the world record but it wasn’t to be,” he said. “Now the fire burns even stronger because I know it’s in the tank.”
(Editing by Neil Robinson and Clare Fallon)