LONDON -- Christian Taylor paused when asked if the IAAF World Championships triple jump gold medal was enough.
"Honestly," he opened with. "Umm ... I've just been chasing this number, this magical 18.29."
That distance of 18.29 meters -- Jonathan Edwards' world record, set in 1995 -- remains unsurpassed. It continues to be as elusive as ever for Taylor (he even has it inscribed on his watch) but there seems to be an increasing urgency in the way he and silver medallist Will Claye talk about it.
There is a belief it will happen soon, but it just did not come together on a still night in London, on Edwards' home turf, with the world record holder watching on. Yet again at these world championships, the fairy tale ending proved elusive.
"The stage was set, Jonathan was watching," Taylor said. "We've had a lot of banter back and forth, but he had the last laugh today. We live to fight another day. If anything this just adds more fuel to the fire."
In his own words, Taylor started the triple jump "really bad." Those two words world record were playing over and over again in his mind, and it needed a pep talk from coach Rana Reider to get his head straight. He used Claye's form -- twice he outjumped Taylor only for the champion to beat those efforts by 5 centimeters each -- to rediscover his own stride and focus on something other than the 18.29 albatross.
It was a jump of 17.68 that secured gold, but as Taylor walked past the various flashing bulbs and cameras pointed in his direction afterward, his resting expression was one of deep thought, rather than a beaming smile at winning his third world gold to sit alongside his two Olympics titles.
"I'm a bit disappointed, to be completely honest," Taylor said. "I want to be the best ever. Whenever the world record is announced, it's Jonathan. It does hurt me a little bit. It's not over and we continue to fight."
Rather than the "we" being a majestic plural, Taylor and Claye have effectively joined forces in an individual sport to help steer each other through this battle of mind and body of breaking the world record. Taylor's personal best is 18.21; Claye's is 17.91. Taylor is the elder by 360 days, but at 27 still has time on his side.
It was a rivalry, and friendship, that started in Taylor's freshman year at college. Claye was at Oklahoma, Taylor at Florida and while Taylor originally thought "this guy's going to make life difficult," they are trying to bring the fun back to spur each other on. "I love the rivalry, the brotherhood," Taylor said, but it has not yet been enough to steer one or the other over that magical mark.
There is inspiration for them, though. Bob Beamon's famous long jump world record of 8.90 meters lasted 23 years before Mike Powell broke it at the world championships in Tokyo in 1991. He was pushed all the way that night by Carl Lewis, whose own leap of 8.87 meters is still the third longest ever in that event. Two Americans pushing each other farther and farther into the sand, chasing a decades-old landmark. It was then as it is now.
"I'd like to believe we could be the new Carl Lewis-Mike Powell," Taylor said. "I don't know what it'll take [to break the record]. If I knew the solution I would put it together."
Claye, who jumped 17.63 to secure silver, constantly referred to "execution" as the missing ingredient needed for triple jump immortality.
"I think he [Edwards] sees it in us. Whenever we get together, it's the topic. You can feel him starting to let it [the record] go, he knows it's coming. Hopefully when we execute right, it'll come. I don't really want to chase the distance, I just want to chase executing it right."
Claye could have taken gold on the night but misjudged his fifth jump, taking off too far in front of the board yet still reaching 17.53. Another jump passed that didn't reach Edwards' magical mark but Claye feels that when -- not if -- they eventually reach it, it will break the dam.
"I feel that when it gets broken, it will continue to get broken," Claye said. "We just have to open new boundaries, just like the four-minute mile; when someone broke that mark, it started to flood. When the world record is broken, we will continue to break it."
Next week they head up to Tignes in France for a meet at the 12,000-foot elevation. They are trying anything and everything to jump more than 18.29 even if it comes with the caveat that it was at altitude -- just as Beamon's Mexico City leap in 1968 did.
"If there's an asterisk I'll take it, I just want to jump farther than him [Edwards]," Taylor said. "Asterisk, or whatever, I'll take it."
The number 18.29 and those two words "world record" continue to outweigh the satisfaction of any medal for Taylor and Claye.