Among the most anticipated faceoffs at Friday night’s Golden Gala in Rome, the third stop in the ÅF Golden League, will be a clash of Long Jump titans, led by reigning Olympic champion Irving Saladino of Panama and the man he succeeded, American Dwight Phillips.
Saladino, 26, rose to the top of his event in 2006, the following year dethroned Phillips as the World champion in a sensational competition in Osaka, and then sailed into the all-time Top-10 with an 8.73m leap in May of last year. The Panamanian got off to a terrific start this year, leaping 8.56m in Hengelo, where he again defeated Phillips, but by a mere two centimetres.
But Phillips, riding a new wave of enthusiasm and determination in the event this season, got even with his rival in Eugene just six days later. Jumping against a headwind, Phillips soared 8.74m, the farthest leap of his career, to supplant Saladino as history’s seventh farthest jumper. A fierce competitor and difficult to out-do, Saladino flew 8.63m that day, the second farthest jump of his career.
Displaying strong consistency, Phillips opened his campaign with a solid 8.51m leap in Baie Mahault on 1 May, and most recently took the U.S. title with a barely wind assisted 8.57m leap. To say that Phillips is back, and better than ever, is hardly an understatement.
The pair’s dominance in recent years - Phillips won back-to-back World titles and struck Olympic Gold in 2004 - has also spawned a renaissance in the event, with serious challenges now coming from every corner of the globe. And many of those paths will cross at the Stadio Olimpico.
2008 Olympic silver medallist Godfrey Mokoena continues to improve and grow in consistency. Last Saturday in Madrid, the South African finally took down the 11-year-old African record with an 8.50m jump. But he didn’t win. The victory went to Australian Fabrice LaPierre whose 8.57m effort was helped by a strong +3.7 wind. But he also backed that up with a solid 8.35m jump, a career best for the 25-year-old.
The field also includes Salim Sdiri who broke the French national record with an 8.42m leap in June; Olympic bronze medallist Ibrahim Camejo of Cuba (8.46m PB, 8.30m this season); Yahya Berrabah, who improved the Moroccan record to 8.38 in Rabat in May; and American Brian Johnson, the runner-up to Phillips at this year’s U.S. championships who has jumped 8.28m this season.
With a cast of characters who will all play key roles in the upcoming World championships plying their craft, the meet record of 8.67m, set by Carl Lewis 22 years ago, could finally fall.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF