Going the Distance
Styled by Andrea Love-Leonor
If Christian Taylor wasn’t so good at jumping insane distances, he could probably run for public office in the city of Gainesville. His smile is as long as his stride, and he absolutely wishes the best for this town.
As a national champion triple jumper for the University of Florida (UF) and 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist for the USA, Taylor has traveled the world competing in a sport that he loves, testing his skills against athletes of the highest caliber and seeing places he never dreamed he’d see. But when he hits the ground, if it’s not a pit of sand, he’d prefer it to be Gainesville.
Ever since arriving at UF December of 2008 on visits for his track & field scholarship, Taylor said the community felt like home. Now splitting his time between Gainesville and England after the 2012 Olympics, during the summer months Taylor trains at the University of Florida track while also enjoying some time off and getting back to the place that makes him feel most comfortable.
“My heart is in Gainesville,” he said. “I like to come back and support the people that have supported me. I want to be an example for what this community and this [UF Track & Field] athletic program produces.”
Gainesville spoiled him in a way, he says. The overwhelming support of his school, coaches, teammates and community was something he found absent as a professional jumper. “Jumping is a solitary sport. You compete alone. You train alone. You travel alone. Leaving the comfort of a team environment and a school system was a difficult transition,” he said.
“In college, I had a few major events a year I had to prepare for. It was my obligation to make sure those events were my best,” Taylor said. “As a pro, if I’m not performing I’m not making any money. There’s a different set of pressure you put on yourself.”
It wasn’t until the NCAA Nationals of his sophomore year that Taylor realized his prowess in the triple jump event could possibly take him far away from the SEC and to the pinnacle of the sport. After NCAA National Titles in 2010 and 2011 and a win at the 2011 World Championships in South Korea with the tenth best triple jump in history of 17.96 meters, Taylor had officially arrived as one of the most prominent Gator athletes on the planet despite not wearing a helmet or shooting a basketball. The World Championship title would launch his career.
There are only a select number of people on Earth that can say they’ve stood tall at the top of an Olympic podium with a gold medal around their neck. Taylor, however, has that unique distinction. Even though he’s arguably the best in the world at the triple jump, his childhood dreams pegged him at the top of the world in an entirely different sport.
“My parents are from Barbados, so I grew up playing soccer. My dream was to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the World Cup,” he said. “I used to pretend I was taking penalty kicks in the World Cup final.”
In high school he eventually gravitated toward the track, and found his true calling, which his parents cultivated with their full support.
“I’ve been so fortunate. You hear stories of parents never being there, and that certainly wasn’t the case with me,” he said.
While Taylor enjoys his time in Gainesville, he’s got the 2016 Olympics in Brazil on his mind. This will be the first time in his career that he’ll enter the games as a defender and not a challenger. With the target placed squarely on his back, training over the next two years is a top priority. He will also be training to get a spot on the US 4×400 meter relay team. It’s an event he’s never run in Olympic competition, but one he has had success with in the past at the high school and collegiate level.
From Gainesville, he’s also cheering on his girlfriend Kelly Murphy, a former member of the UF Women’s Volleyball team and current member of the US Women’s team, as she travels the world pursuing her own athletic endeavors.
“It’s hard doing long distance, but I’m her number one fan,” Taylor said. “We both love Gainesville and we’d both love to be home, but we’re meeting in Milan next month. Not too many couples can say they get to go on dates all over the world.”
Travel is a part of the job description, but Taylor makes a special effort to book an extra day into his itinerary either before or after competition to make sure he is making the most of his cultural opportunities. He’s at ease mentally when he’s out and about sight-seeing, talking to locals and being a self-described “social butterfly.”
“Some people they stay in their hotel room to try and focus and that’s their routine,” Taylor said. “That’s not me. Being able to actually visit all the places I go is a big deal to me. I know it sounds cliché but I feel like it would be a huge waste not to experience the world while I can. That’s how I stay relaxed.
Amidst all the travel, the competition, juggling a relationship and preparing for the 2016 Olympics, Taylor still finds time for Gainesville.
“I take a lot of pride in UF and Gainesville. If you look at all the Gator athletes competing around the world it’s almost as if UF was a country,” he said. “I love what we have here and hopefully others will get a glimpse of that, too.”