Christopher Taylor on his way to winning the 400m at the IAAF World Youth Championships, Cali 2015 (© Getty Images)
One of Jamaica’s brightest prospects for the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 is the soft spoken yet fiercely competitive 2015 World U18 champion Christopher Taylor.
Meeting the challenge
This prodigious Jamaican sprinter, seen as his nation’s next superstar, actually became involved in track and field in 2011 while goofing around and distracting members of his Ewarton Primary School’s track team which drew the attention of the coach who decided to punish young Taylor by making him race against the sprinters.
The fleet-footed Taylor, who has a disarming smile and resolute eyes, duly accepted the challenge and despite not having the proper attire --he raced in his school uniform-- finished second, beating a number of seasoned athletes. A star was instantly discovered and he was invited to join the team which he did in February of that year. The rest is now history as Taylor went on to dominate the Primary Championships leaving a trail of records before moving on to Calabar High School, arguably the top track and field school in Jamaica.
In high school Taylor quickly established himself as the genuine article producing stunning performances, including becoming the first and only 14-year-old Jamaican to run under 49 seconds in the 400m. Taylor did it twice - at the 2014 ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships, in Jamaica, simply referred to as 'Champs'.
“The 400m is my favourite event, I also love the 200m, but the 400m is harder, more competitive and exciting to run,” said Taylor, who thrives on challenges and sets himself high standards.
That resolve has come to define Taylor who has the distinction of holding all of the age group 400m records at ‘Champs’ except in the U20 division where Akeem Bloomfield’s national junior record of 44.93 remains untouchable – for now.
2015 breakout, and world U18 title
2015 was an outstanding year for the St. Catherine parish native who won every major race he contested including registering a then world age-15 400m best of 45.69 on 8 March at the Jamaica CARIFTA Trials. He coasted to the 200m and 400m titles at ‘Champs’, and then stamped his authority on the CARIFTA Games a few weeks later establishing the existing U17 400m record of 46.64. Taylor capped off his perfect season, 75 days before his 16th birthday, by landing the IAAF World U18 title in Cali, Colombia, in 45.27 making him the sixth fastest youth quarter-miler of all-time.
“At the start of the championships I felt a lot of pressure knowing I was the only one out there competing for my country in the 400m,” Taylor recalled.
“After I pulled off the victory my burden was lifted because I was really worried about the two Americans and I beat them, so it was OK afterwards.”
2016 complacency and injury
The following year the hopes of a nation rested squarely, once more, on the shoulders of Taylor at the World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. He was woefully out of form and it was at the championships Taylor experienced first-hand that there are no short cuts to success and more importantly of the level of dedication required to stay on top.
“In 2016 I wasn’t focused enough and I wasn’t disciplined in training either,” said Taylor who failed to advance from his semi-final at the championships.
“I picked up an injury in the season as well which was very disappointing because it ruined my chances of breaking the World U18 record (45.14) which was one of my main aims that year.”
This season the 18-year-old has been meticulous in his preparations leading up the World U20 Championships Tampere 2018.
“I’ve learnt my lesson and things will be different next time around.” Taylor has scarcely run his pet event this season and has been focusing largely on the 200m.
“I’ve been running the 200m mainly because of my doctor’s instructions. I’ve been developing some minor problems and he told me the 200m would ease the problem, so I should focus on the 200m for now until I get to my required fitness before moving back up.”
Taylor’s times in the half-lap event have been very encouraging. Last year he won the Pan American Junior 200m title in a lifetime best 20.38 (0.5m/s) in Trujillo, Peru, and lowered that mark to a 20.35 (0.0m/s) at the 2018 Boys and Girls Championships en route to defending his crown. A week later at the CARIFTA Games in Nassau, Bahamas Taylor easily brushed aside the opposition while cruising to the U20 Boys’ 200m title in 20.38 seconds (1.1m/s).
His 20.35 performance has remained the fastest U20 clocking this season thus far. He’s run few 400s, but notably improved his personal best to 45.24 at the Cayman Invitational on 2 June, currently the second fastest in the world this year.
“I’m very confident in my chances at the World U20 Championships, although I haven’t decided yet whether I will run the 200m or 400m. I know for sure I’m going there to medal, if not win,” Taylor said with conviction.
The Jamaican Junior Championships get underway on 21 June in Kingston.
Noel Francis for the IAAF