JAI TAURIMA (26 June 1972 -
He was born on the Gold Coast and raised in its suburb of Southport of New Zealand heritage but few athletes found a way to be so quintessentially Australian than Jai Taurima.
He first came into athletics prominence in 1990 when he finished second in the long jump at the National under 18 championships with a modest leap of 7.08m. But by the end of 1990 he had improved to 7.45m.
The following year he took silver in the National Juniors with 7.42m, also finishing eighth the senior event with 7.17m. His talent had been noted and he was selected in an Australian under team to tour the United State. He made the most of the experience setting a new personal best of 7.65m in Tallahassee.
In the 1992 Nationals Jai again came second in the Juniors with 7.34m and added another silver in the 110 metres hurdles in 14.42. In the senior long jump he finished sixth with 7.38m. If there had been any doubt by now there was a sense he was going places as his best had improved to 7.88m. Jai was a very versatile athlete with great speed. He had also represented Queensland in touch football.
Jai continued to improve and finished third in the 1993 Nationals with a jump of 7.84m and then finally broke through for his first National title in 1994 with a windy 8.00m. This also gained him selection for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada.
At the Games Jai qualified through to the final with 7.88m and there jumped 7.87m to finish sixth behind the winner – Nigerian Obinna Eregbu and Australian team mate David Culbert who took silver.
Jai dropped back to fourth in the 1995 Nationals but bounced back when it really mattered a year later winning the 1996 Nationals with 7.92m. With two jumps earlier in the qualifying period over 8 metres he was selected for the Atlanta Olympics.
Jai then sustained an injury which fortunately he was able to slowly overcome. However he was still not in top shape when he was forced to jump for a village entry standard of 7.86m at a pre-meet in the USA. In a competition marred by wet weather, Jai agonisingly fell a centimetre short and with a best of 7.83m, he was dropped from the team. It was a harsh decision and proved to be so as that distances would have had him finishing eleventh a week later at the Games.
Undeterred, Jai finished second in the 1997 Nationals with 7.88m but was not selected for the World Championships. The next year however proved to be a far better year for him.
Again second at the Nationals with 7.92m he was selected for both the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and also the World Cup which was to precede the Games by just a few days at altitude in Johannesburg. In South AfricaJai broke Gary Honey’s long standing national record of 8.27m by 5 centimetres.
Jai flew, justifiably with great confidence, to Kuala Lumpur where engaged in a magnificent battle for the gold medal with close friend, team mate and fellow Queenslander Peter Burge.
After the six round both men had a best of 8.22m, so in accordance with the rules, the medals were decided on countback. Burge’s second best jump was 8.14m to Jai’s 8.10m, reflecting further the closeness of the contest.
Jai jumped 7.99m at the 1997 Nationals to again come second behind a new rival Shane Hair whose best on the day was 8.01m. Both were chosen for that year’s World Championships in Seville, Spain. Together they to took on the best jumpers in the world and both just missing the podium. Jai jumped a personal best of 8.35m on his last jump and missed the bronze medal by a single centimetre whilst Hair jumped 8.24m for fifth.
Sydney 2000 was the home Olympics of which all Australian athletes of that generation dreamed. Jai’s silver-medal run at National championships continued but an 8.09m jump behind Peter Burge’s 8.28m was an Olympic qualifier. Six months later again in the Olympic Stadium at the Australian selection trials the order was the same Burge winning but the margin this time was much smaller, just three centimetres – 8.09m to 8.06m.
Fast forward a further six weeks to a now packed stadium Jai took on one of the all-time great long jumpers and world champion Ivan Pedroso from Cuba with both jumpers fouling on their opener. Pedroso then reached 8.34m on his second attempt whilst Jai was on the board with 8.18m.
Jai then matched Pedroso’s 8.34m in round 3 and led on the countback as the field was whittled down to the last eight men. Pedroso responded with 8.41m in round 4 with Jai falling agonisingly short by a single centimetre with an 8.40m leap. The audience was captive to a thrilling contest.
Drama heightened when Pedroso fouled round 5 and then with the crowd roaring encouragement to ‘Jumping Jai’ he sprinted down the runway and set a new national and Oceania record of 8.49m to reclaim the lead. Each man was left with one jump in pursuit of the 2000 Olympic long jump crown.
Pedroso’s response unfortunately for Jai was a magnificent 8.55m. Jai put everything into his last jump but 8.28m was well short and he had to settle for one of the most enthralling silver medals won by an Aussie at the Olympics. Again sharing the limelight was team mate Burge who finished sixth with 8.15m.
Jai continued to compete after Sydney but was plagued with injuries. He jumped 7.93m in 2001, 7.78m in 2002 and 7.66m in 2003 but the magic was gone.
Jai was coached by two of Australia’s most accomplished mentors - Gary Bourne and later by Craig Hilliard at the Australian Institute of Sport. His career ended with personal bests of 21.37 for 200m, 13.95 for the 110m hurdles and that very special 8.49m in the long jump which remained the national record until
When Jai called time on his career, Australia could look back on something quite special – competitive brilliance in contrast with an extraordinarily laid-back approach to sport and achievements. Unchallenged reports suggested he enjoyed late nights, smoking, eating pizzas and drinking bourbon and coke - none necessarily recommended for an elite athlete in his prime.
Paul Jenes OAM
Athletics Australia Statistician
Acknowledgements: Mark Butler - IAAF Athletics Statistics Book, Olympic Games; Mark Butler - IAAF Athletics Statistics Book, World Championships; Mirko Jalava –Tilastopaja; Paul Jenes, Peter Hamilton, Fletcher McEwen, David Tarbotton – Australian Athletic Results; Paul Jenes - Fields of Green, Lanes of Gold; Bob Phillips - Honour of Empire, Glory of Sport; Rob Whittingham, Paul Jenes, Stan Greenberg - Athletics at the Commonwealth Games; Athletics Australia Almanacs; Brian Roe