Former UW athlete Jeremy Taiwo comes from behind to clinch a second place finish in the decathlon and join his father, Nigerian triple jumper Joseph Taiwo, in the ranks of Olympians
EUGENE, Ore. – Many kids grow up looking up to their fathers and wanting to become doctors, firefighters or policemen to be just like dad.
Former UW star Jeremy Taiwo grew up in Renton wanting to be like dad too. The difference, however, is that his father, Joseph Taiwo, was a two-time Olympian who’d competed for his native Nigeria in the triple jump in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games.
“I knew what my dad was, and I was like, ‘Well, I probably should be an Olympian. That’s what I want to do,” Taiwo said in an interview last month. “It’s funny because ignorance is bliss, and I didn’t really have an understanding of how hard that is.”
It took 26 years and more than a decade of ups and downs, injuries and rehab, hard work and self-belief, but on Sunday night, at historic Hayward Field on the third day of the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, Taiwo finally fulfilled his childhood dream.
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Taiwo won the silver medal in the decathlon with a career-best 8,425 points to guarantee himself a spot on the U.S. team going to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer.
Taiwo finished behind reigning Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, who scored 8750 points, and narrowly passed Wisconsin’s Zach Ziemek, who came in third with 8,413 points.
However, Taiwo’s spot on the Olympic team wasn’t cemented until the end of the final event.
Taiwo began the second day of decathlon competition in second place, and maintained that spot through the 110 meter hurdles and the discus.
But the pole vault and the javelin didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. Taiwo couldn’t quite clear 16 feet-6 ¾ in the pole vault and had to settle for 15-7. In the javelin, a throw that would have beaten his personal best of 176-2 ended up being called a foul. Taiwo had to settle for 173-3 in the javelin – more than 50 feet under the monster 227-7 throw Georgia’s Garrett Scantling unleashed.
Scantling rode that new javelin personal best to leapfrog Taiwo for third place in the overall standings behind Eaton and Ziemek going into the final event of the day – the 1,500 meter run.
Taiwo knew he would need to jump back into the top three to make it to the Olympics. So as soon as the start gun went off to open the race, he darted to the front of the pack and set the pace.
Through the first 400m, Taiwo maintained his lead, almost 10 meters ahead of his closest competitor.
He didn’t realize how fast he was going until he saw his coach pointing at the clock at the end of the first lap and realized that he’d run a 62-second split – four seconds over the 66-seconds he’d been shooting for.
“So I cut it down a little bit, but then I was like, ‘you know what? I’m already going. I might as well keep going and going,” Taiwo said.
A little more than halfway through the race, Nike’s Curtis Beach passed Taiwo. That too served as motivation, and for the rest of the race, Taiwo focused on chasing down Beach.
He never caught him, but it didn’t matter.
As he caught sight of the “4:17.35” displayed on the clock when he crossed the finish line, Taiwo knew he’d done enough.
“I don’t think I could have run faster,” Taiwo said, grinning.
He’d done it. Second place.
Then came the celebratory lap, but Taiwo didn’t get very far. As he approached the east grandstand right after the 200m mark, an exuberant group of about 40 friends and family members wearing red “Team Taiwo” T-shirts reached out over the railing to congratulate him.
Taiwo excitedly greeted his fan club and his jubilant parents, Joseph Taiwo and Irene Botero. They’d shared Jeremy’s journey, Joseph coaching his son through high school track at Newport High, and Botero mobilizing her law school friends to sell tamales and organize fundraisers to help her son fund his Olympic quest.
“It was a very emotional moment,” Botero said. “It was wonderful.”
“Good job son. You did great,” Joseph Taiwo told his son, bursting with pride as they exchanged a hug.
In that moment, a little boy’s dream to be like his dad became a reality.
“He’s proud of me,” Jeremy Taiwo said. “I felt like, between us, the father-son relationship, it’s very interesting. He’s been a coach all my life, I felt like the only way he could see me as someone whom he raised to be comparative (to him) in his athletic endeavors was to make an Olympic team and be an Olympian as well.”
The Olympics await both father and son, a homecoming for one, a whole new world for the other.