Long jumper Irving Saladino becomes Panama's first Olympic athletics champion (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Men's Long Jump - Final

Panama celebrates its inaugural Olympic gold medal thanks to the 8.34m victory of World champion and world season leader Irving Saladino.

1948 Olympic sprinter Lloyd LaBeach’s two bronze medals are Panama’s only previous athletics success in Games’ history.

Saladino had registered two fouls two days ago before he pulled out a last round qualification to gain entry to the final. He was tentative in his approach, perhaps running at 90% of his normal speed then, and he remained so in his opening attempt tonight, and fouled.

After the sprinting we have seen in Beijing there seems little doubt that the Mondo Super X Performance track is second to none but the speed of the surface has played havoc with the aspirations of the world’s best long jumpers at these Games.

Having already sent an array of global finalists scurrying to alter their runway marks in an effort not to over chute the board in qualification on Saturday, Saladino and his fellow finalists tonight seemed to never come to terms with this super fast flooring.

That Saladino had the best series there is no debate, an 8.17, 8.21 and 8.34 coming in rounds 2, 3 and 4 but that these results were surrounded by fouls summed up a scrappy competition overall. The winning distance is the lowest at which the Olympic crown has been earned since 1972 (8.24m).

We are no longer in the dominant eras of Lewis, Powell, Pedroso, and seem also to be at the tail end of the career of Dwight Phillips, the 2004 Olympic champion whose previous dominance just three years ago took him to his second World title in Helsinki 2005. He did not even make the US team to these Games after finishing fourth in their Trials.

With this historical backdrop of an event in statistical decline, Saladino has taken up the gauntlet, his 8.73 Area record in Hengelo earlier this year the clearest indication of his potential if he can successfully nurse a persistently returning knee injury.

‘Olympic and World champion’ is superlative pairing achieved by few in their careers and while the competition and distances achieved were low key, Saladino prevailed.

World Indoor champion Godfrey Khotso Mokoena of South Africa made it a good fight briefly taking the lead in round four before Saladino, jumping last after the third round cut, recaptured the lead with his winning 8.34m. With both men fouling their last two efforts, anti-climax is a term that comes to mind.

The battle for bronze was exceptionally tight with just four centimetres separating third to six places. Cuba’s Ibrahim Camejo launched his 8.20m effort in the last round which by one centimetre denied Zimbabwe, in the person of Ngonidzashe Makusha, its first ever Olympic track and field medal.

The 21-year-old Makusha has improved dramatically this year from a 7.69m PB (2007) to an 8.30m Area record (12 June), and as this is his first ever senior global championships he should be pleased with his fourth place when the hurt of losing a medal at the last moment subsides.

The last round was very much Cuba’s, as Camejo’s compatriot Wilfredo Martinez launched an 8.19 assault to take fifth place, while Senegal’s Ndiss Kaba Badji who had held fourth place with 8.16 since the end of round four, found himself relegated to sixth by the two Cubans’ last gasps.

Chris Turner for the IAAF