To steal a phrase from baseball, Yuriy Krimarenko (UKR) hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to break up a tie game and win a most surprising gold medal in the men’s high jump at 2.32.
Jumping at the bottom of the order, and with all other competitors already eliminated, the slender jumper entered his name into athletics’ history by clearning that modest height as a mysterious hex descended onto the high jump pit this evening.
Not since the first World Championships in 1983 has the winning height been so low. That year, Gennadiy Avdeyenko of the Soviet Union—at the time almost as unknown as Krimarenko—won with the same 2.32 height.
Up until now, this season had seen a relative renaissance of an event which had fallen for a number of years into an abyss of mediocrity. When Stefan Holm leaped 2.40 during the past winter to win the World Indoor Championships—a height not seen for five years, indoors or outdoors—it gave hope that the event was staging a comeback.
Krimarenko’s jump was only one centimetre under his personal best, which he had jumped only one time this year. Tonight was also only the second time in his career that he has jumped higher than 2.30. At the end of last season, the Ukrainian’s PB stood at only 2.23.
Three days after his 22nd birthday, Krimarenko was apparently satisfied with his win over a stellar field and declined to jump further.
“My dream was to be in the top eight,” said Krimarenko afterwards, “but I didn’t plan to be the winner. I thought [Stefan] Holm would have been the strongest.”
“I started out well today, and I was in a positive mood,” the Ukrainian continued. “I was not at all nervous.”
There was no early indication that the event would “die on the vine” as it did tonight. Eight of the thirteen finalists managed to jump 2.29, and there was every expectation that the remaining competitors—five of whom had jumped 2.32 or higher this season—would fight much harder for the gold medal.
One by one the jumpers missed. A dragged heel here, a shoulder nudge there. The crossbar hit the mat twenty-three consecutive times at 2.32 until Krimarenko found the solution to the mystery of the Great Wall of Helsinki.
Had the Ukrainian missed on that final attempt, a jump-off would have occurred between Edmonton silver medallist Yaroslav Rybakov (RUS) and Central American champion Victor Moya (CUB), a protégé of world-record holder Javier Sotomayor, who gave a “thumbs-up” signal with each of Moya’s successful jumps.
Instead, those jumpers ended tied for the silver medal, with Mark Boswell (CAN), who won bronze two years ago in Paris, and Athens bronze winner Jaroslav Bába (CZE) taking fourth and fifth.
“Before the competition I told him [Sotomayor] I was going to get a medal. I must thank him for all of his advice,” said Moya.
Rybakov perhaps was speaking for most of the jumpers, observing that “it has been an odd day for every one of us. Those easy heights seemed to be difficult for everybody. Somehow, I had an unsure feeling all through the competition.”
Olympic champion Stefan Holm (SWE) opened at 2.20 as he had done in the qualifying round on Friday, but problems appeared early. He needed two jumps at both 2.25 and 2.29, before joining the others in a mass exit at 2.32, finishing seventh on countback.
“I don’t know why I didn’t have any power in my legs today,” the Swede said. “I had to work hard to clear 2.25 and I should have these difficulties on such heights. Obviously, it wasn’t my day today.”