Awesome Orson

28.07.08: EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD Orson Taylor won his third gold medal today ­ and with it an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. He is the first man to win a gold in the high jump and the long jump and take first place in the decathlon.

His victory at the Toronto Olympics was all the more exciting for the competition: his closest rival, Jim Muganje, had already won two golds for Malawi before the decathlon, and they were running neck and neck until the final seconds of the 1500m finale.

Orson was born in the South Side of Chicago, but from the age of 12, he lived in one of the city's controversial Village Projects. The name comes from Hillary Clinton's book about children, It Takes a Village. The title is a shortened version of the African saying "It takes a village to raise a child." Village Projects are gated communities for the urban poor. There are five in the Chicago area. To be granted a home in one, parents must sign a pledge forswearing alcohol as well as illicit drugs, and must give 20 hours a week to work in the project. Contact with the outside world is discouraged. More than 50% of people entering Village Projects leave or are expelled in the first year for breaking the numerous, often onerous rules. Offenders are not always able to take their whole family with them. Taylor's mother, a substance abuser, was expelled four years ago, and his sister, an alcoholic, was to follow 18 months later. But Orson remained and so did his aunt. Both his mother and sister have now been through treatment.

There were emotional scenes when Orson stood wearing his three medals, one arm around his aunt, the other around his mother and sister as he told reporters: "This is the village that made me an Olympic champion." MF