20 AUG 2008 General News

Women's High Jump - Qualification

Defending champion Yelena Slesarenko gets through to the Olympic final after a third-attempt clearance at 1.93m (Getty Images)Defending champion Yelena Slesarenko gets through to the Olympic final after a third-attempt clearance at 1.93m (Getty Images) © Copyright

The 32 women entered in the qualification of the women’s high jump must have wondered why the skies decided to turn against them (and all the others competing this morning) as for the first time since the opening of the Athletics competition at the Beijing Olympic Games a downpour descended on the Chinese capital.

As a result, officials decided to postpone the two qualification rounds by one hour and if the mats, the runway and the benches were still very wet when competition began at least the extremely heavy rain had now stopped.

Seeing the unfriendly conditions in such a technical event, all but four athletes including reigning World champion Blanka Vlasic decided to start at the 1.80m opening height.

Eventually, fifteen went clear at 1.93m and despite a qualification mark originally set at 1.96m it was the officials again taking centre stage as they decided to allow all 15 in the final and called it a day.

Four athletes had clean sheets. One to make no mistakes was European Indoor and outdoor champion Tia Hellebaut of Belgium who decided to focus only on the individual high jump event after taking a superb Pentathlon gold medal at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia this winter.

Defending Olympic bronze medallist Vita Styopina of the Ukraine, Spanish record holder Ruth Beitia and Marina Aitova of Kazakhstan were the other three to end their round with no crosses next to their name.

An outstanding pre-event favourite, Vlasic needed two attempts to go clear at 1.93m but when she did she made it with impressive margin leaving no doubts that she is in shape to add Olympic glory to her World Indoor and Outdoor titles.

“It was distracting because it gives you a hundred other things to think about,” said Vlasic about the weather conditions.

She was one of many to complain about the lack of an undercover area in the field, not that she blamed her one miss of the day on the rain.

“I’m in very good condition, but it was very difficult,” Vlasic explained. “It is all about equipment and I put my bag in the wrong corner and everything got wet.

“In these circumstances, it’s normal that things aren’t so easy. It’s nothing to worry about. It was tricky, a little hard to get the right distance of approach. I made it, and that’s the most important thing.” 

World silver medallist Antonietta Di Martina had a temporary scare at 1.80 but regrouped formidably to clear the three consecutive heights the first time around.

German champion Ariane Friedrich who improved her personal best to 2.03 this summer had a bad foul at 1.89 but that was obviously a misjudged attempt as she sailed clear the next time around and again first time at 1.93.

In the same group, World Indoor bronze medallist Vita Pilamara, World silver medallist Anna Chicherova and Under-23 European champion Svetlana Shkolina all needed two attempts to secure a spot in the final at 1.93.

However it wasn’t all fairy tale material for the Russians as defending Olympic champion Yelena Slesarenko was oh-so-close to not making the cut. After a first scare at 1.89, she failed her first two attempts at 1.93, both quite badly.

She went over with her last attempt but that was more of a lucky clearance as the bar kept on shaking long after she descended the mat.

“For the first time, something didn’t go right at all,” she declared.

The same fate awaited the 2005 World bronze medallist Emma Green who became the fifteenth and last qualifier with a third round clearance at 1.93.

The remaining qualifiers include US champion Chaunte Howard and the Czech duo of Iva Strakova and Romana Dubnova.

33-year-old Amy Acuff who was taking part in her fifth consecutive Olympic Games failed to advance four years after she finished fourth in Athens.

Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF