RJRGLEANER Honour Awards 2019 | A humble champion
Recipient: Tajay Gayle
Category: Special Award: Sports
Some history makers are veterans, accustomed to the spotlight. Others are seemingly born great and perform accordingly. Others simply emerge at the perfect time. That’s the story of Tajay Gayle, Jamaica’s first long jump world champion.
In Doha, Qatar, at the 17th World Championships, he shocked everyone with an upset win over Juan Miguel Echevarria of Cuba, the World Indoor and Pan-Am champion. After a shaky qualifying experience, Gayle stretched to his third personal best of the year with a first round jump of 8.46 metres. That set co-favourites Echevarria and South Africa’s reigning champion Luvo Manyonga on edge. In round four, the 23-year-old Jamaican finished them off with a magnificent leap that extended past James Beckford’s national record of 8.62 metres to 8.69.
The new distance was longer than the lifetime bests of his rivals and made him the tenth best jumper in history.
“This means everything to me,” he said, gratefully after relegating Olympic champion Jeff Henderson, Echevarria and Manyonga into second, third and fourth.
“It’s not only the gold but the national record. Today is the best day of my life because I dreamed about this and it has come true.”
To say that Gayle has made great strides in a short time is an understatement. Spotted at Papine High by coach Shanikie Osbourne and directed at the University of Technology by Stephen Francis, the soft spoken athlete first came to public notice in 2017 when he broke through with a personal best of exactly 8 metres at the Milo Western Relays.
No one knew him then, but in 2019, he opened with 8.20 metres in Grenada and a personal best of 8.30 on May 4 in Kingston. Wins followed in the Shanghai Diamond League and the Nanjing World Challenge meets and though he was just fifth in the Stockholm Diamond League, he was back on the rise after his first national time in Kingston – 8.24 metres – on June 22.
By the time he landed in Doha, Gayle was a firm medal candidate behind Echevarria, who beat him in Stockholm where the winner was Swede Thobias Montler, at the Pan-Am Games and in Zurich, at the Diamond League finals.
After a modest qualifying effort of 7.81 metres, Gayle shrugged off worries about a new technique in the final.
“Today, I just focused on the run-up and didn’t think about any old or new technique. I just jumped,” said the champion from August Town.
Tajay is the first Jamaican man to win a field event gold medal at the World Championships, with only Trecia Smith, the 2005 women’s triple jump world champion, having a similar honour in this nation’s storied track and field history.
In his moment of triumph, he remembered where he started.
“Stephen Francis is a very motivational coach and I am grateful for all he has done for me, but to my coach from Papine High School, Shanikie Osbourne, I honour her with this victory,” he told The Gleaner in Doha.
His ability, coaching, youth and humility have prompted fans, pundits and coach Francis to predict big things for him in the future.
For now, with the gold medal safely tucked away, Tajay Gayle stands on top of the world as a champion who made history in 2019.
* The first event Tajay Gayle competed in at Boys and Girls Champs was the high jump.
* He got into long jump by mistake due to rain water being amassed in the high jump landing bed one day at the University of Technology, and was directed to the long jump pit instead.
* World record holder Mike Powell of the USA thinks Gayle can break his world record – 8.90.
* He was an athletic jack of all trades at Papine High School, doing high jump, long jump and the decathlon.
* Tajay Gayle is the 2019 National Champion.
* He is winner of the Shanghai Diamond League meet, and first Jamaican World Champion in the long jump.
* Gayle is the first Jamaican man to win a World Championship field event.
* He broke James Beckford’s national record of 8.62 metres.