Eight years after winning an Olympic gold medal from lane one, Angelo Taylor returned to take yet another 400m Hurdles Olympic title. Yet, the road back to the top of the podium was far from easy for the man who also contributed to the US 4x400m winning performance in Beijing.
Extract from IAAF Yearbook 2008
Eight years is an eternity in the life of a world class athlete. Remaining injury-free, staying focused and peaking at the right time is as much a result of good luck as it is an art and very few are up to the task. Somehow American 400m hurdler Angelo Taylor has defied the odds and now has two Olympic gold medals in his drawer to show for it.
The native of Decatur, Georgia won the 2000 Sydney Olympics in what was then a new personal best time of 47.50 seconds. Eight years later he went to the Beijing Games and emerged victorious with a stunning performance in the final. Again he ran a personal best - 47.25 seconds the eighth fastest time in history - to lead an American medal sweep.
Taylor though was in a class by himself as Kerron Clement, who had been impressive in the early part of the season, was a distant second in 47.98 seconds.
“It was different this time,” says the 29-year-old comparing the two gold medals. “I was the underdog coming into 2008 so this was very special.”
“Yeah, (Jackson and Clement) they had had some great performances but I guess I just took them out of the race.”
He laughs almost embarrassed at this statement which could be easily misconstrued as arrogance but appears more a result of his inherent shyness.
Ironically he had hoped to run both the 400m and his specialty in Beijing but the 2008 US Olympic trials schedule was not in his favour. A year ago he had claimed the 400m bronze medal at the 2007 IAAF World Championships behind Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt. He has run the distance in 44.05 seconds, not too shabby for a hurdler.
But in Eugene, Oregon site of the Olympic trials, the 400m heats followed the 400m Hurdles final by twenty minutes and that was nowhere near enough time to recover. Though he started his 400m heat he came to a halt after 250 metres. What was, at the time, a huge disappointment turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In any case he added to his medal tally as he ran the second leg on the US 4x400m gold medal winning relay team.
Following the Olympic Games Taylor set off on a lengthy and exhausting tour to cash in on his sudden celebrity. Appearance fees negotiated by his manager, sports attorney Kimberley Holland, were a little more lucrative and his month long post Olympic tour took in Lausanne, Zürich and the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart before a return to China for the Shanghai Grand Prix meeting. All in all it was a splendid way to end an Olympic year.
Upon returning to Decatur the city’s Chief Executive Officer declared September 8th “Angelo Taylor Day” and he stood humbled before the citizenry delivering a few words of gratitude. Life has not always been so positive. Though he made the 2004 US Olympic team he was unable to get past the semi-finals. Later he learned he had stress fractures in both his shins.
Then two years ago Taylor pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of two underage girls and was sentenced to three years' probation. It was an horrendous time and he endured the whispers behind his back and doors being closed in his face. At the time he had no sponsor.
“My family and my friends helped me and gave me confidence,” he says looking back. “They kept me on track. It was hard at the time. But they kept me positive and I believed in myself. But I couldn’t have done it without them, I was running decent but I couldn’t run the times I was capable of. It crossed my mind to quit.”
Taylor turned to former Nigerian Olympian Innocent Egbunike who was coaching a group at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where Taylor had attended school. Egbunike is a devoted Christian and believes in giving people a second chance. The pair met one day informally at the track. They talked about God. They discussed the future and they prayed together. Then they became coach and athlete.
Egbunike, who won the 1987 World Championship silver medal and has a 1988 Olympic bronze medal as a member of the Nigerian 4x400m relay team, remembers what it was like for Taylor at the beginning of their relationship.
"He was working as an electrician, he was always tired, it was rough, let me put it this way,” Egbunike recalls. “I told him he had a God-given talent, he was blessed, and he must not allow anything to move his focus. I would find him sleeping in his car while waiting for me. I found him a sponsor, an individual.”
Taylor quit his non-union job as an electrician to join Egbunike’s training group which includes 2006 African 400m Champion Gary Kikaya of the Ivory Coast, Chris Brown, the Bahamian who finished 4th in the 2008 Olympic 400m final, as well as his younger brother, Corey Taylor, a promising 110m hurdler. The coach describes the atmosphere as conducive to Taylor’s development as both an athlete and a human being.
“They are always joking and making fun of each other,” he reveals. “Kikaya was running very well one day and Angelo, in front of us all, said 'Are you trying to chase me out of the 400m?"”
Egbunike reveals that Taylor enjoys spending time with his three-year-old twins Xavier and Isaiah who live with their mother in the Atlanta area. They occasionally join their father at the training track. Taylor himself softens when he thinks of them.
“Oh yeah, they go to the track and watch me run,” he says. “They are always wanting to race. It’s pretty cool.”
Once the personal appearances died down he was back with the group preparing for the next season. Again he is a Nike sponsored athlete and the financial hardships are for the most part in the past.
Along with his 2000 Olympic gold medal in the 400m Hurdles he was a member of the US 4x400m relay team in Sydney which has been forced by the International Olympic Committee to return their medals. Members of the team, including Antonio Pettigrew and the twins Calvin and Alvin Harrison have admitted to using performance enhancing substances. Only Taylor and World record holder Michael Johnson were adjudged to be clean.
Losing the medal was not a catastrophe according to Taylor.
“I don't really have any thoughts on that,” he claims. “It is what it is. I am just happy that I have individual medals in events in which I have competed.”
If Taylor can ride this latest wave of good fortune for some time he stands a chance of emulating the great Edwin Moses’ career. The former World record holder twice won the Olympic 400m hurdles gold medal in 1976 and 1984 then at the age of 33 struck bronze in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
“I will definitely go for the World Championships next year and then the 2012 Olympics,” Taylor declares. “I feel I have a lot of years left in me. As long as I can keep competing and making teams then I will keep going.”
Born on 29 December 1978 in Albany, Georgia, USA
Two-time Olympic champion at 400m Hurdles
World bronze medallist at 400m
Olympic champion at 4x400m
PB: 47.25 at 400m Hurdles; 44.05 at 400m