Doha World Champs: Tajay Gayle goes from last man to qualify to last man standing
FOR HIS entire career, Olympic and World Championships medallist, James Beckford, carried the torch for Jamaica as its first-ever World Championships long jump medal winner. Beckford was the only Jamaican man on the podium in the event at a major global championship, earning silver at the 1996 Olympic games as well as at the 1993 and 1995 World Championships. He also held the national record of 8.62 metres.
That was the case until the 2019 World Championships in Doha when a 23-year-old Tajay Gayle would surpass him and announce himself on the world stage in in his first World Championships appearance.
The seeds for that moment were planted years earlier by his high school coach Shanieke Osbourne at Papine High School. Gayle started as a sprinter but was doing both the high and long jumps at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Atheltics Championships.
“I did not take the sport seriously my first three years in high school. I was not training properly; I was going there to have fun. However, Coach Osbourne saw something in me that I did not see. From then I trusted her and did what I was told,” Gayle said in a World Athletics interview in 2019.
While he did not make the finals of either the high jump or the long jump at Champs in 2014, he would switch to the decathlon in 2015, his final year of eligibility. He became the first male athlete from the school to contribute points with his seventh-place finish and his talent did not go unnoticed, making a believer out of veteran coach Stephen Francis of MVP track club who wanted him to join his camp.
“He did the decathlon at Boys’ Champs and actually finished in the top eight, and then Stephen Francis came to me and said ‘Shanieke, I need Tajay. I believe he can be good at something,” Osbourne told The Sunday Gleaner on September 29, 2019.
LONG JUMP SPECIALIST
Now specialising in the long jump, Gayle failed to make the qualifying standard for the 2017 World Championships in London. The following year he would make strides, finishing fourth at the Commonwealth Games and second at the NACAC Championships in Toronto, with a leap of 8.24.
His 2019 season included the national title and a Pan American Games silver medal in Lima as he continued preparing for his first World Championships. Gayle said his Lima experience was when he first had the belief that jumping in the 8.40-8.50 range was possible.
But his first World Championships appearance almost ended as quickly as it had begun.
Gayle was on the verge of elimination from the first round.
He produced a jump of 7.85 on his final attempt to become the last athlete to qualify for the final where he would face the likes of talented Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria and defending champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa.
He would only need two jumps in the final to create history.
His first-round effort in the final was 8.46, a 14-centimetre improvement on his personal best. With no other competitor able to better the mark in the first three rounds, he would use his fourth attempt to put the event beyond doubt.
Using his speed as taught by Francis, he would soar to 8.69, a world lead, a new national record, the 10th longest jump in history and the championship secured.
While Beckford paved the way, Gayle ascended to the summit, the first Jamaican man to win a world long-jump title. It would spark a strong showing in the field events for Jamaica that year, the first time the country would go on to win more than one medal in the field at the World Championships.
Beckford, the former torch bearer in the long jump, said he was overjoyed that his record was finally broken and believes in the future that Gayle has.
“I see so much of me in him. He’s a very humble guy, shy and if he stays grounded, this is just a stepping stone,” Beckford said in a Gleaner interview in 2020.
For his success, Gayle would win the RJRGLEANER National Sportsman of the Year award in 2020, the second long jumper, behind Beckford, to win the award.