Dwight Phillips (USA) removed some of the suspense from the men’s long jump final with his initial 8.60 leap, a world-leading mark and only the fourth attempt of the competition, which easily held up as the gold-medal jump and a successful title defence. It was the American’s only fair jump of the evening.
”I wasn’t concerned about the other athletes,” Phillips said later. “I was focusing only on my own performance. After my first jump, I still wanted to jump far, to try and break the world record. That is my next goal.”
Even with the gold decided early, there was still an emotional tug-of-war for the other medals.
Salim Sdiri (FRA) staked his claim with an 8.20, also in the opening round, to which Khotso Mokoena (RSA) immediately replied with 8.01 for the top three leadoff jumps.
The bronze position changed quickly in the second round as James Beckford (JAM) with 8.02, then Volodymyr Zyuskov (UKR) at 8.06, and finally Joan Lino Martínez (ESP) with 8.13 held that spot.
Enter Tommi Evilä (FIN), clearly the home audience’s favourite, especially after his 8.18 yesterday which broke a 39-year-old Finnish record. With fouls on his first two attempts and on the brink of elimination, the 25-year-old Finn came close to that mark again with a third-round 8.16 as the bronze changed hands once again.
Evilä was not long in holding hardware, as Ignisious Gaisah (GHA), on the very next attempt, sailed to a NR 8.34 to go into the silver spot, pushing Sdiri momentarily to the bronze.
A fourth-round 8.24w lifted Martinez into third, but only until Evilä stepped onto the runway for his fifth effort. Accompanied by a deafening roar from the audience, the Finn dramatically moved into the bronze position with a wind-aided 8.25, a distance only twice before reached by a Suomi long jumper under any conditions.
Sdiri was not about to give up easily. After a long foul in the fifth round, potentially enough for the silver, the Athens finalist sailed out to his evening’s best of 8.21w to which the capacity crowd gave the Corsican-born Frenchman a loud cheer for the effort. It was, in reality, a celebration of Finland’s first medal of the championships and its first long jump award since the 1956 Olympics.
Evilä, coached by his father Juhani, did not appear to be on his way to a medal after fouling his first two jumps. “I had to move my mark back twice, each time by 15 centimetres,” he noted.
But after yesterday’s national record, the idea of a big performance was always in his mind. “When I came here, I believed I could medal, and it feels good to do so,” he said later.
Almost forgotten in the Finnish euphoria was Gaisah’s silver medal, a big step for the Netherlands-based Ghanian jumper who earlier this summer revealed his goal of breaking the African record of 8.46. Despite a national record, Gaisah revealed that tonight was not without problems.
“I had some cramps in my legs during the competition, but I could still jump relaxed. My coach advised me to keep as warm as possible,” the affable jumper reported. “I am still young [22 years old], and I know I have the possibility of jumping around 8.50.”