Yamile Aldama competed in her first World Indoor Championships in 1997, for her native Cuba. Fifteen years later, representing Great Britain, she won her first title. After numerous minor medals and high placings, it was also her first gold at world or Olympic level.
Five months short of her 40th birthday, and a couple of hundred short of veteran Bahamas sprinter Chandra Sturrup as the oldest female competitor at Istanbul 2012, Aldama found a 14.82m effort in the second round which stood up throughout the rest of the competition as the gold medal jump.
Indeed, Aldama did not have to record another jump. She grabbed her hamstring as she landed in the sand on her third attempt and passed the remaining three.
Olga Rypakova and Yargeris Savigne, probably the only two women in the field who could have threatened Aldama’s mark, had horrible nights.
Savigne’s problems were the more simple. She recorded six legal jumps, but none will go on the two-time world outdoor champion’s highlight reel. Her best, a 14.28m in round one, had her in a medal position until late in the competition, but ultimately left her a frustrated fourth.
Defending champion Rypakova must have left her run-up instructions back at the team hotel. She started with three fouls, which would have had her out of the final three jumps at an outdoor championships final, but kept her in an indoor one with eight competitors.
Then, when she did hit the board, she suffered the pain of knowing that two of her final three attempts were long enough to win, but did not.
Rypakova finally recorded a legal jump on her fourth attempt, but took off a massive 47.8 centimetres before the board. She reached 14.45m to go into second place, but a centimetre-perfect take-off would have given her 14.92m.
Still, that is what the board is there for. After a fifth round 14.63m, Ryapkova’s – and Aldama’s – fate came down to the last jump. She landed in the sand some centimetres past the leading jump, but this time fouled on the board by a mere 2.3cm. The jump was not measured, of course, but it looked good enough to win.
Rypakova was not the only one in foul trouble. China’s Li Yanmei had five fouls, as did Dana Veldakova of the Czech Republic.
In the midst of all that, the bronze medal was up for grabs. Savigne had it, but could not keep her grip on it.
Mabel Gay, Savigne’s less celebrated Cuban teammate, was a model of consistency amid all this foul business. Five of her six jumps were legal.
Gay improved modestly throughout, from 14.08m in the first round, to 14.19m in the third and 14.29m in the fifth. Modest improvements were all it took to grab the bronze medal, though she had to survive a last-round scare when Kim Williams of Jamaica went out to 14.27m.
It was the shortest distance to take a bronze medal since Lisbon 2001 and Rypakova’s the shortest for silver since 1991.
As if Aldama could care less: she had had her feet up and the gold medal around her neck by that stage.
Len Johnson for the IAAF