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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Most average people wish for the skill and talent to excel in one sport, maybe two if they're lucky. But for others, the possibilities are endless. When a person is blessed with the innate talents that Christian Taylor is, the sky is the limit.

With an athletic physique, a slender build and the speed of a gazelle, Taylor is the archetype of the multi-sport athlete. Growing up, he played soccer and football, excelling in both. However, after a series of unexpected events, he would add another sport to his repertoire in his first year of high school.

The newest addition, track and field, quickly became his greatest passion.

From Football to Track

Taylor's journey to track and field was an unusual one. Unlike the other sports he played, he got into track and field on a whim.

In his first year of high school, Taylor decided to run track as a joke, for high school's sake, but he began taking the sport seriously his junior year. He started traveling with a club track team, which solidified track as his newest forte.

Taylor had little difficulty dropping what had long been his favorite sports and embarking on a path with his newfound love. His cousin made his decision a lot easier, and the early success he had in the sport closed the deal.

"Football was an easy thing (to drop). I'm not a big contact person. I feel like if I can run fast, the only contact I have is just high-fives," Taylor said.

His cousin also played football and was often injured, so Taylor knew track and field's non-contact environment was better for him.

The wins kept coming for him throughout high school. By the end of his four years, Taylor had compiled a lengthy list of accolades.

He and his team won back-to-back Class-6A track and field state championships in 2007 and 2008, and he was named Georgia's 2008 Gatorade Athlete of the Year. His legacy includes the Georgia High School Athletic Association records for long jump, triple jump and the 400-meter dash.

Of all his accomplishments, there is one that stands above the rest to Taylor: the 2007 World Youth Championship triple-jump crown.

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"Winning World Youth (in 2007) was pretty big for me because that was the time where track started to become my life, and to be so successful so early was pretty good," Taylor said.

He would carry his high school success into the next phase of his life.

From Fayetteville to Gainesville

UF's coaching staff had Taylor on its radar as soon as he entered the sport. The Gators admired his competitiveness and his natural talents.

"When we were recruiting Christian, we knew he was a big-time guy and a big-time talent," coach Mike Holloway said.

Choosing UF was a fairly simple decision for Taylor and his family, especially after his mentor praised Holloway.

"Coming in, my old coach was like, 'Coach Mouse (Holloway) is gonna take care of you no matter what,'" Taylor said. "To have that kind of reference was pretty big for me."

When Taylor arrived in Gainesville, he was immediately faced with his first taste of college athletic adversity: a coaching change.

Growing up, Taylor was accustomed to having long-term coaches. So when UF's field events coach, Rana Reider, - who had been at UF since 2006 - left to pursue opportunities elsewhere, Taylor couldn't quite grasp the change.

After Reider's departure, another assistant coach, Brian O'Neal, began working with Taylor.

Taylor and O'Neal quickly found that they shared common goals - both had high expectations - and they clicked.

"Coach O'Neal sets high standards out there, which is great because I like to step up to the plate," Taylor said. "He's always telling me what I could do, but also he's been a friend and that's a big thing. If I don't want to talk about track, he's been there just to be real. It's helped a lot."

The chemistry between Taylor and his coaches would set the stage for unprecedented success during his first indoor season as a Gator.

A Humble Champion

In possibly the most outstanding performance by a freshman in UF history, Taylor highlighted his first indoor season by winning the men's long jump, triple jump and 4x400-meter relay, earning him the coveted Commissioner's Cup, given to the top point scorer at the Southeastern Conference Championships.

"Coach O'Neal was talking about the Commissioner's Trophy for so long," Taylor said. "My main goal was just get as many points as I can for the team. Whether it was second, third, no matter what, I was gonna give it my all."

Taylor's performance impressed his teammates and coaches alike, but he did not allow success to affect his behavior toward others or his hardworking approach to his craft.

"The best thing about him as an athlete and as a person is his caring attitude towards his event, his teammates, his desire to be the best and to push his teammates to be the best," O'Neal said. "The thing that separates Christian from some of the other elite guys is that he understands how talented he is and he's willing to work hard at his craft to be even better."

Family Comes First

Taylor's 14-year-old sister, Kaitlyn, laughed. She had no idea how good her brother was until she saw him at the SEC Indoor Championships. But his mom and dad, Stephanie and Ian, knew it all along.

"My parents and my sister were pretty happy. They were like, 'We knew you had it in you,'" Taylor said. "My sister was in shock because she didn't realize. My parents have always been the ones that are like, 'You have so much potential.'"

The close relationship Taylor shares with his parents and sister is one of the driving forces of his success. He carries with him an insatiable need to make the most important people in his life proud.

"I'm a big family person, so I want to keep my parents proud (and) be a good leader for my sister," he said. "She's coming up - she's involved with track too - so I just want to give her something to look at to see the lifestyle, that if you're successful, this is how things could be."

Taylor's desire to please his family stemmed from his father encouraging both he and his sister to have family pride. The elder Taylor set a clear path for accomplishing just that.

"We've always instructed both our kids that it is important to have family pride, and if they work hard enough to keep their family happy, that means they're doing a good job," Ian said. "The whole driving force behind Christian is always to do the best he can, and if he does the best he can, then the family is very happy with his performance."

Sleep-Deprived Success

For a successful athlete, Taylor doesn't get much sleep.

"I don't like to sleep too much," he said. "That's time where I can't be thinking, visualizing what I need to do. But I get the rest I need."

In this case, little sleep translates into big results.

Taylor has already won the first indoor NCAA men's triple jump championship in school history and he will look to continue that success until he moves on from track and field.

When that day comes, he hopes to have made an impact on his sport and on the people around him.

"In the end, I want the coaches and my teammates to (say), 'He got the job done. He's a funny guy, but when business needs to get done, he takes care of it,'" Taylor said.

His teammates have already begun to acknowledge this quality.

"He's a laid-back, goofy type of dude - cool to hang with," junior sprinter Calvin Smith said. "(On the track), he's focused, ready to get the job done. He won't quit on you. He's gonna go 110 percent no matter what it is."

Holloway is sure Taylor will have an impact on the sport, not solely because of his talents, but also because of his personality.

"The thing that is gonna make Christian a world-class athlete someday is that he's a world-class person," Holloway said. "You can't coach that. Give that credit to his parents for the way he was raised."

Clearly Stephanie and Ian did their part, and they did it well. The rest is left to the gifted legs of Christian Taylor.

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