By Mark Maloney
SEC Digital Network
LONDON - For one night, American track and field fans could be united by a gesture that usually makes blood boil for some in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gator chomp.
Florida rivals hate it, but Thursday night in London’s 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, Gator Nation represented THE nation.
Former Florida teammates Christian Taylor and Will Claye did UF, the SEC and U.S.A. proud, finishing 1-2 in the men’s triple jump.
The two youngest finalists in the field became America’s first Olympic medalists in the triple jump since Kenny Harrison won in 1996.
Taylor, 22, won with a distance of 58 feet, 5 1/4 inches.
"It’s a blessing to share this moment with (Will) and my coach, Rana Reider," said Taylor, who also is reigning world champion outdoors.
Claye, 21 and the world champ indoors, took silver at 57-9 3/4.
Fabrizio Donato edged teammate Daniele Greco for the bronze by 5 1/2 inches, landing at 57-4 1/4 -- Italy’s first Olympic medal in the event.
Claye, who also won a bronze here in the long jump, is the first Olympic athlete to medal in the long jump and triple jump in 76 years. Naoto Tajima of Japan won the triple and placed third in the long at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
"It’s awesome to come out with two medals. ... I feel like it’s history," said Claye, the No. 1 combination jumper in the world. "And I hope I can push other kids to do the same thing that I’m doing now. Because there’s a lot of kids out there with the same ability."
Donato led through one round at 57-0 1/4, but Claye took the lead with a 57-6 1/2 effort in the second round.
Meanwhile, Taylor fouled on two long attempts, leaving only one jump to qualify for a final three chances.
"Everyone’s going to say that I had a big foul and I missed out," Taylor said. "But the thing is, for me, a foul is just as good as a zero -- it’s no mark. I know what I can do, and my coach and I have just been working so hard.
"But it was a little nerve-wracking at the beginning. But I had to collect in my head, and said a little prayer and really attacked it when I got to the box."
Knowing he needed a legal mark, Taylor went 56-3 1/4 to move into fifth place.
In the fourth round, Taylor hit his winner of 58-5 1/4, the fourth-longest jump in Olympic history.
The distance is the longest in the world this year and further than anyone else in the field has ever jumped.
Claye improved to 57-9 3/4 in the fourth round, but that was as close as anyone would come to Taylor.
"Having Will as my rival, he’s my brother," Taylor said. "It’s big brother, little brother. We’re always going to be fighting each other. But at the end of the day he’s my brother. We’re going to go home shaking hands, hugging each other. It makes us better. ... It’s business on the track, but it’s family outside. It’s all out of love."
Taylor, from Fayetteville, Ga., won a pair of NCAA indoor championships and the 2010, ‘11 outdoor crowns as a Gator. He followed with a U.S. national title in 2011.
Then came his world crown, and now Olympic gold. He is the seventh American to win the Olympic TJ.
His friendly rivalry with Claye includes 1-2 finishes in the 2011 SEC indoor, NCAA indoor and outdoor and USATF outdoor meets.
Taylor won three of the four, with Claye taking the NCAA indoor title.
"Me and Christian have been going 1-2 for a long time, Claye said. "It’s like we have a brotherhood, and jumping against your brother, you go harder than you do against anybody else.
"It feels like it’s just me and Christian out there sometimes. It’s an awesome rivalry and we definitely push each other, and we help each other out there. ... It’s a blessing that we’ve crossed paths this way."
Both are young enough that an encore in 2016 is not out of the question. And don’t forget about Omar Craddock, the current NCAA champion from Florida. With Taylor and Claye already a self-proclaimed brotherhood, Craddock has the potential to make it triplets on the world stage.
"I think it’s a peace of mind," Taylor said of having Claye with him while traveling the world circuit. And ... "Omar Craddock, that was our guy. Day in and day out, we were busting heads together and it was a competition at practice. But he’s young and we have World Champs next year, so hopefully we can 1-2-3 that and keep the Florida trend going."
* Defending bronze medalist Leevan Sands (Auburn 2004) of the Bahamas placed fifth at 56-4 3/4. Sands was carted from the sand pit after suffering a gruesome knee injury on his fourth attempt. His right knee buckled awkwardly after he completed the hop and step, as he planted to take off for the jump.
* Wallace Spearmon (Arkansas 2007) finished fourth in the men’s 200 meters, missing a medal by six-hundredths of a second. Jamaicans went 1-2-3 with Usain Bolt (19.32), Yohan Blake (19.44) and Warren Weir (19.84). Spearmon finished in his best time of the season, 19.90.
"It’s not the first time to go in and run sub-twenty and not get a medal, it’s just never happened to me before," Spearmon said. "Congratulations to Bolt and Blake and Weir. I’ve just got to go home and work harder."
* Tony McQuay (Florida 2013) ran the third leg as Team USA breezed into Friday’s finals of the men’s 4-by-400 relay. McQuay combined with Manteo Mitchell, Josh Mance and Bryshon Nellum to finish in 2:58.87, matching the Bahamas for fastest time of the day. They were the only units to break three minutes.
Incredibly, Mitchell finished the leadoff leg on a broken leg. He had landed awkwardly while going up a flight of stairs earlier in the week.
"I got treatment and I was fine. I did workouts, and when I warmed up today I felt really well," Mitchell said. "I felt I could go 44 (seconds)-low. I got out pretty slow, but I picked it up and when I got to the 100-meter mark it felt weird. I was thinking I just didn’t feel right. As soon as I took the first step past the 200-meter mark, I felt it break. I heard it. I even put out a little war cry, but the crowd was so loud you couldn’t hear it. I wanted to just lie down. It felt like somebody literally just snapped my leg in half.
"I knew if I finished strong we could still get it (the baton) around," he said. "I saw Josh Mance motioning me in for me to hand it off to him, which lifted me. I didn’t want to let those three guys down, or the team down, so I just ran on it. It hurt so bad. I’m pretty amazed that I still split 45 seconds on a broken leg."
After the race, Mitchell was X-rayed and diagnosed by team doctor Bob Adams with a break of his left fibula bone.
As for his effort, McQuay said, "I felt like I did a pretty good job I just kept it close for my boy Bryshon. ... I think I did a good job coming home strong and kept it close. ... Overall I’m proud with the team our goal was to qualify, so that mission is complete and we are going into the finals with a great lane."
Venezuela, which did much of its pre-Olympic preparation under Florida assistant coach Erin Tucker, survived a different type of drama.
The Venezuelans initially were disqualified for obstructing the Australian team on the second handoff. A protest was lodged, and Venezuela was reinstated after video evidence showed that "contact was no more than a normal relay exchange," according to a London 2012 summary of the event. Team VZ got the eighth and final qualifying spot in 3:02.62.
* Liberia’s Jangy Addy (Tennessee 2008) started the day in 20th place in the decathlon. Thursday, he ran the 110-meter hurdles in 14.23 (945 points), threw the discus 149-7 1/2 (779), cleared 13-9 1/4 in the pole vault (673), threw the javelin 165-3 (594) and ran 1,500 meters in 5:08.14 (514). He finished with 7,586 points, placing 23rd. Team USA finished 1-2 with Ashton Eaton (8,869) and Trey Hardee (8,671).
* With Tianna Madison (Tennessee 2007) leading off, Team USA led the women’s 4-by-100 semifinals in 41.64. That’s the second-fastest in Olympic history.
Madison was followed by Jeneba Tarmoh, Bianca Knight and Lauryn Williams.
Trinidad and Tobago qualified second in 42.31, with Kelly-Ann Baptiste (LSU 2008) running second and Semoy Hackett (LSU 2012) on anchor.
Jamaica also advanced, ranking fourth in 42.37. Kerron Stewart (Auburn 2007) anchored.