04 September, 2019

Taylor and Claye: 'We have to thank Willie Banks for everything'

On Wednesday living legend Willie Banks joined the press conference of Christian Taylor and Will Claye ahead of the AG Memorial Van Damme in Brussels. The two best triple jumpers of the moment spent some time with the man who held the world record for ten years and will be inducted on Thursday into the Hall of Fame of the Memorial.

“Sitting next to Willie Banks here is a great honour,” said Christian Taylor respectfully. “For years I had a board with 17m97 hanging in my bedroom. When I started with triple jump, my goal was to one day jump that distance.”

That 17m97 is the world record Banks established in 1985, which would remain standing for 10 years. In 2011 double Olympic champion Taylor got very close with a jump of 17m96. In 2015 he improved to 18m21, the second best jump of all time behind Jonathan Edwards, who wowed the world in 1995 with 18m29. 

This year Will Claye also became a member of the 18 metre club after his jump of 18m14 in Long Beach at the end of June. “It felt so easy,” he said. “Every triple jumper dreams of 18 metres. But now I’m already dreaming of the next barrier: 19 metres!”

Claye also has a lot of respect for Banks. “We have you to thank for our careers. You paved the way for us, also as the inventor of rhythmic clapping,” he told Banks, who was the first jumper in the 80’s to get the entire stadium to clap for him. His popularity, and that of the sport at large, reached searing heights." 

“My jumps didn’t make me famous, but my personality did,” the 63-year old Banks explained. “That didn’t bother me, quite the opposite. The discipline is more than a triple jump. It’s also the show around it. I lost a lot of competitions, but nobody remembers that.”

"This event feels like coming home. I remember a lot of old faces from back in the day. And also some new faces, who were still a baby when I came here to jump in the 80’s. Like you, Cedric,” he teased meeting director Cedric Van Branteghem.

Christian Taylor agreed that the triple jump is more than just running and jumping: “It’s poetry in motion, like a fairytale. From the take-off board to the start of the sand pit is an enormous distance, but we jump even further than that. The length of a schoolbus or volleyball court. All on two skinny legs.” With those legs Taylor and Claye are expected to beat the meet record om 17m60 set by Jonathan Edwards.   

Willie Banks has one last tip. “Do like I did and think about something funny before you run. Laughing helps you jump further. I often didn’t know how far I jumped or how I managed to jump that far."