Jumping for joy at Rio 2016

The jumping events at Rio 2016 were a joy to behold, and with many contests going down to the wire, fans inside the Olympic Stadium were continually on the edge of their seats.

Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Jeff Henderson of the USA got the jumping events underway on 13 August with gold in the men’s long jump. In a competition full of twists and turns, Henderson took victory with a jump of 8.38m, just one centimetre ahead of South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga. London 2012 gold medallist Greg Rutherford of Great Britain took the bronze with a jump of 8.29m.

With the competition going down to the final round of jumps, Manyonga was in the lead with an 8.37m effort but fouled his final attempt. That allowed Henderson to step up and produce the best jump of his career. Rutherford also saved his best until last and sneaked up onto the podium. 

On the final jump of the night, American Jarrion Lawson thought he had taken the title with a massive leap only to score 7.78m. Replays showed that his left hand had touched down close to the edge of the sandpit, giving 27-year-old Henderson the gold.

“My mum couldn’t come tonight as she’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease,” said the victor afterwards. “When I put that medal into her hands, I know I’ll cry. It’s like I’m dreaming, it’s extraordinary.”

For defending champion Rutherford, meanwhile, it felt like the gold had slipped through his fingers: “I’m drained, I just couldn’t get my jumps quite right tonight,” he explained. “Nobody was unbeatable out there and I came here to win. I’m very disappointed. I always knew I’d have to push myself, that’s why I was here. Overall, I didn’t jump particularly far and it wasn’t particularly good. Sometimes it’s like that.”

Ibarguen gets Colombia off the mark in the triple jump

On 14 August, Caterine Ibarguen took triple jump gold to give Colombia a first Olympic title in track and field. A silver medallist four years ago in London, Ibarguen’s fourth jump of 15.17m was enough to see off Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas and defending champion Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan.

Having been beaten just once in major competitions in the four years since taking silver in 2012, the victory rounded off a fantastic period for Ibarguen. After sealing world championship wins in Moscow in 2013 and Beijing in 2015, her only other defeat since London also came at the hands of Rypakova in July 2016.

“I take real pleasure in every jump because I love athletics and I love what I do,” the Colombian said afterwards. “Out on the track, I’m always such an enthusiast.”

At just 20 years of age, Rojas made Olympic history by becoming the first Venezuelan woman to win an athletics medal. With Ibarguen in the lead after her 15.07m second jump, Rojas closed the gap with a 14.98m fourth jump before the Colombian to hit back with the gold-winning 15.17m.

“We have to continue working hard and make the most of our healthy rivalry to keep making progress,” Rojas explained. “I think the world record [15.50m] is within our grasp.”

It was the first time that South America had taken the top two spots in an Olympic athletics event. “This is a high point for the continent,” Ibarguen stated. “It’s going to get even better as we have so much talent. We’re finally realising how important athletics is to our countries.”

Da Silva dethrones Lavillenie with a moment of magic

On 15 August, Brazil’s Thiago da Silva smashed his own personal best by ten centimetres to take pole vault gold. Outdoing reigning champion and world record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France with a vault of 6.03m, the young Brazilian became the host nation’s latest hero.

Opening with four successful vaults in four attempts, Lavillenie looked well in control up to 5.98m and sat atop the leaderboard having vaulted one centimetre higher than the gold-medal mark he achieved in London in 2012. After American Sam Kendricks failed to pass the 5.93m mark, taking bronze at 5.85m, Lavillenie and Da Silva were left to fight it out amongst themselves.

Da Silva skipped an attempt at 5.98m before clearing 6.03m at the second time of asking, much to the delight of the partisan crowd. The odds were still stacked in favour of Lavillenie, whose world record of 6.16m meant his final attempt at 6.08m was well within range, despite two failures at 6.03m. However, it was Da Silva’s night as the French athlete came up just short. 

“I am very happy,” explained Da Silva. “We worked so hard for this moment – not for the gold but to take a medal. For Brazil, it’s amazing. I tried to really outdo myself for the crowd, they believed in us. It’s incredible. My first time over six metres, my home town wanted me to win.”

“What happened tonight wasn’t totally unexpected, but there you have it, four years ago it went my way,” said Lavillenie. “There’s not much you can say. I gave my all, I tried to do as much as I could. I’ve got no complaints, Thiago just produced an incredible performance.”

Taylor retains triple jump title

Bright and early the next day, Christian Taylor of the USA retained his triple jump crown, sealing gold with a 17.86m leap on his first attempt. Team-mate Will Claye took silver to reprise the London 2012 one-two, with China’s Dong Bin taking bronze.

“I’m a night owl so jumping in the morning is tough for me,” Taylor explained, “On the bus I said: ‘Leave it all out there’. I wanted it so much and it came together. The stars aligned.”

Having won in London with a jump of 17.81m, Taylor went even further this time around. The seventh man to jump, his 17.86m first attempt was the longest jump of the season. And, while his opening mark was too much for the other competitors, Taylor further stamped his authority on the event with two more jumps of 17.77m, which would have been enough for gold.

Claye also sealed his podium place early on with a 17.76m first jump while Dong’s personal-best first attempt of 17.58m was his only legal jump, securing China’s first Olympic triple jump medal. For 26-year-old Taylor, who won world championship titles in 2011 and 2015, the world record remains an ongoing obsession. Having leapt 18.21m in the final of the World Championships in Beijing in August 2015 – the second longest jump ever – the American is not far away.

“I wanted the world record but it wasn’t to be,” Taylor continued. “I’ll keep pushing for it. It’s been there so long.” For the time being at least, the record will stay with Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards, whose 18.29m leap at the World Championships in Gothenburg in 1995 is still the mark to beat.

Drouin secures Canada’s first high jump gold in 84 years

Later that day, Derek Drouin became Canada’s first high jump gold medallist since Duncan McNaughton in 1932. A leap of 2.38m was enough for him to see off Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko.

“The Olympic Games isn’t like the world championships,” Drouin explained. “I really enjoyed my world championship win in Beijing in 2015, but I’m going to cherish this one even more. I didn’t realise I was the first winner since McNaughton. Canada has such a great record in athletics at the Olympics and it’s great to take my place in history.”

Having cleared the 2.38m mark at the first time of asking, 26-year-old Drouin sealed a confident victory that saw him add a gold to the bronze medals he won in London in 2012 and in the 2013 World Championships. While the competition did not reach the kind of heights that many expected, Drouin jumped with a clean slate throughout the competition before falling short at the 2.40m mark when he had already clinched the gold. Barshim, who was battling to win a first ever gold for his country, matched Drouin stride for stride until three failed attempts at the 2.38m mark.

Afterwards, the silver medallist was keen to thank his many supporters: “It’s my country’s first silver medal and I literally felt like everybody was behind me,” he said, “I wanted this for them more than for myself. I’m really happy and I hope they are too. I’m satisfied with what I’ve achieved today. I’m going to give everything to win gold at Tokyo 2020. Here, Derek Drouin was more focused than I was. I want to dedicate my medal to my mum. She’s always taken care of me.”

Bondarenko, meanwhile, played a tactical game, passing on two of his first four jumps in an attempt to manage his chronic back problems. After twice failing to complete his 2.38m jump, the 2015 world championship runner-up went all out with a final failed attempt at 2.40m to hand the gold to Drouin.

“Of course I’m satisfied,” Bondarenko said. “I did something amazing for myself. I completely committed myself to this competition. After sealing bronze, I had to just lay down for a few minutes, my skull was pounding and my head was spinning.”

Sprinter Bartoletta lands long jump gold 

Leaping a personal best 7.17m, Tianna Bartoletta of the USA took long jump gold on 17 August. She narrowly edged out compatriot and defending champion Brittney Reese, who took silver with a distance of 7.15m, while Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic took bronze with a national record jump of 7.08m. Bartoletta was not the favourite heading into the final. While she qualified with a jump of 6.70m, it was Reese who came into the event with some real momentum, outjumping Bartoletta in the US Olympic trials on 2 July 2016 with a massive season-best 7.31m.

Yet inside the Olympic Stadium, Reese struggled to find her rhythm. After red-flagging three of her first four jumps, she just managed to sneak into the top eight and gain an additional two attempts with a jump of 6.79m. Bartoletta, meanwhile, also started with an illegal effort before following it up with jumps of 6.94m, 6.95m and 6.74m to take the lead. In the fifth round of jumps, Reese leapt out in front with 7.09m only for Bartoletta to respond brilliantly with an enormous 7.17m, the second-longest jump of 2016 and a personal best. With just one attempt remaining, Reese could only manage 7.15m.

After two injury-hit years, the runner up was not overly disappointed by the result. “I couldn’t quite get it all together today,” she said. “After having a number of operations I hit rock bottom and thought about ending my career. I’m really happy to be here today.”

Having won long jump gold at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Bartoletta disappeared from the scene for a number of years. Then, ten years after her title win in Finland, she won the long jump at the World Championships in Beijing in 2015 with a 7.14m leap. In Rio, she explained that it was thanks to bobsleighing that she was able to regain the power needed to compete at the highest level. “In bobsleighing, acceleration is vital,” she explained. “With that practice on the ice, I was able to come back to the long jump and improve my sprinting because I’d regained the muscle memory needed to get that extra bit of explosiveness.”

An athlete of many talents, Bartoletta was also part of the US team who won the 4x100m sprint relay at the London 2012 Games. “Today I executed my plan perfectly, from the first to the sixth attempt,” the 30-year-old explained. “I don’t think I quite realized that until the very end of the competition and even then I think my first reaction was to make sure I’m ready for the relay tomorrow. My work isn’t finished yet, the celebrations can wait until after the relay. I’ve still got to do a job for my country.” And two days later Bartoletta won her third Olympic gold with a 4x100m win alongside Allyson Felix, English Gardner and Tori Bowie.

Stefanidi flies to pole vault gold

On 19 August, Ekaterini Stefanidi gave Greece a first athletics medal at Rio 2016 with gold in the women’s pole vault. With a winning vault of 4.85m, the 26-year-old reigning European champion overcame Sandi Morris of the USA, who also cleared 4.85m, and New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney, who cleared 4.80m to set a new national record. After clearing 4.60m and 4.70m at the first attempt, Stefanidi needed two tries to clear the bar at 4.80m. With just three competitors remaining, it was McCartney who led the way at that point having cleared each height at the first time of asking.

The teenager then failed to clear the 4.85m mark while both Stefanidi and Morris succeeded on their second attempt. After neither athlete was able to clear 4.90m, the pair had to be separated by their number of failed attempts, with the American having had one more effort at the 4.70m mark. Stefanidi said she always knew that she would one day reach the pinnacle of the sport: “I was pole vaulting at 10 and 11 and started breaking world records in my age-group,” she explained. “When I was 12 I used to cross the road thinking to myself: ‘Be extra careful, how will you break the world record if you have an accident?’ I think this year’s pole vault competition has been the most difficult ever. I wouldn’t have even had a medal at 4.80m. I think we’re going to keep getting higher and higher.”

For 24-year-old Morris, meanwhile, the disappointment of narrowly failing with her third and final attempt at 4.90m was short-lived. “I think that the girls competing tonight put on a great show,” she said. “I was briefly disappointed but at the same time I had to pick myself back up. How can you be sad with an Olympic medal? I’ll remember this moment and it will drive me on towards the Tokyo Games in 2020. It’s really cool to be a part of this new generation of women’s pole vaulting, we’re following in the footsteps of true greats and it’s wonderful to be involved with this new wave.”

And one key member of this new generation is 19-year-old McCartney. “I think that five metres is seen as a real barrier for women's pole vault but I don’t think it will last very long,” she explained. “The sport is evolving very quickly. In the future, I hope we’ll be clearing heights like the men.”

Further back, reigning Olympic champion Jenn Suhr of the USA struggled with illness and bowed out at 4.70m – a height she would normally clear with ease. Cuba’s Yarisley Silva, who won gold at the 2015 World Championships and Olympic silver in London in 2012, finished tied for seventh place. Finally, Brazil’s Fabiana Murer, who won the 2011 World Championships and took silver at the 2015 World Championships, failed to make it through the qualifiers in front of her own fans. 

Experience carries Beitia to high jump gold 

On the final day of track and field events, 37-year-old Ruth Beitia of Spain took the high jump crown to become her nation’s first ever gold medallist in women’s athletics and the oldest woman to win a jumping event. With four athletes tied on 1.97m, Beitia sealed the victory with the fewest failed attempts.

Having cleared 1.88m, 1.93m and 1.97m at the first time of asking, Beitia narrowly edged out Bul-garia’s Mirela Demireva, who had failed her first attempt at 1.88m and took silver. Croatia’s two-time world champion Blanca Vasic, who won silver in Beijing in 2008, cleared all three heights at the second attempt, and her three failed efforts sealed the bronze.

After all three medallists tried and failed to clear the 2m mark, Chaunte Lowe of the USA came closest to snatching victory with her efforts at the same height. Amazingly, despite being in conten-tion for the gold medal until the very end, she had to settle for fourth place.

“I'm aware that I’m 37 years old,” Beitia joked afterwards. “I think I'm one of the oldest women to win an Olympic gold medal. Of course, I'm very proud to still be going up to now. Even at my age, I have the same enthusiasm and happiness.”

Having made her international debut in 1996, Beitia retired from the sport after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the London 2012 Games. But she came back a few months later to take bronze at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow and arrived in Rio on the back of a win in the European Championships in Amsterdam in July, where she cleared 1.98m. 

“This gold medal is the product of 26 years of hard work and tearing my hair out,” she added. “I won thanks to my coach Ramon Torralbo, my other half. The second chance he gave me has been an opportunity to show the world all the hard work we’ve put in over the years. When I came out of retirement, I was able to take a weight off my shoulders, I just enjoyed it with a big smile.”