In an event where the World record hasn’t been in jeopardy since the owner of that same mark took a bow from athletics, the men’s Triple Jump final at the Beijing Olympic Games was arguably one of the best the event has ever witnessed.
Under the watchful eye of Jonathan Edwards, whose 18.29 has now stood for 13 years, no fewer than seven men broke the 17 metres barrier with four over 17.50 metres. For the first time since the 1997 IAAF World Championships, 17.52m was not enough to win a medal. In Olympic history, that mark would have won at least bronze at each edition of the Games.
Reigning World champion Nelson Evora found his best form of the year when it mattered most. He came into the competition with a 17.24 season’s best, a mark he improved by 10 centimetres in the qualification round before adding another 33 centimetres in the final.
With a fourth round 17.67, Evora became the sixth athlete in the history of the event to win both the Olympic and World Championships titles after the likes of Khristo Markov (1988/1987), Kenny Harrison (1996/1991), Mike Conley (1992/1993), Jonathan Edwards (2000/1995&2001) and Christian Olsson (2004/2003).
World Indoor champion and Edwards’ pick for gold Phillips Idowu took a bitter-sweet silver medal just five centimetres off Evora with 2003 World Championships bronze medallist Leevan Sands finishing third with a new Bahamian record 17.59.
Former World junior champion Arnie David Giralt improved his personal best by 2 centimetres, his second round 17.52 being worth a temporarily silver but eventually only good enough for fourth.
“I can’t believe it yet,” said Evora. “This is the turning point of my life. This medal means a lot to me. As a young man who dreams of getting the championship, my dream is realised today.”
“I was expecting a great result. I wanted to jump for my personal best. I didn’t get that but I got a season’s best. My coach did everything perfectly.”
Evora struck the field with his opener 17.31, an effort to which Idowu responded the best as he landed at 17.51. Some may have thought that the competition had just been killed. They couldn’t have been further from the truth.
To wrap up a superb first round, Giralt leapt to 17.27 with defending bronze medallist Marian Oprea just 5 centimetres adrift. World silver medallist Jadel Gregorio concluded the list of 17 metre jumpers with his own 17.14. Not a bad start to the event.
Well more was in store as Evora didn’t wait to regain the lead. Hitting the board with perfection he landed at 17.56, five centimetres ahead of Idowu. The British champion could ‘only’ manage 17.31 as just a few minutes later Girat hopped stepped and jumped to his best of the night to leapfrog into second. Idowu had been relegated into third by one centimetre.
Round three saw more changes up top in the standings after Evora recorded his only foul of the evening. This time it was Idowu who hit the board to perfection, his 17.62 giving him the lead for the second time this evening. Evora was in second and Giralt down to third.
But that too didn’t last long as Sands’ longest of the evening came in round three. He held the silver medal, three centimetres off Idowu and another three ahead of Evora.
As the order was reversed in round four, Idowu jumping last and Evora jumping third from last it was the Portuguese record holder who had the last word. He mastered a superb 17.67 which would prove the best of the evening.
Idowu responded well with a jump which looked slightly better but he was given a red flag and that was virtually the end of the competition.
The only one to improve in the last two rounds was Gregorio who moved up a spot from seventh with a last round 17.20 to push back Onochie Achike to seventh at 17.17.
Oprea would have to do with fifth as Giralt left medalless in a night which saw Cuba win their first medal of the athletics competition here in Beijing.
“I would have liked to go into the London 2012 Olympics as the defending champion, and I can’t believe I’m standing here disappointed with silver, but I am,” said Idowu. “I can’t complain with the silver but I’m a winner and I had been undefeated coming into this. This is the one I didn’t want to lose.”
Sands declared: “I said if I was going to medal, I was going to cry. I couldn’t cry. I’m overjoyed.”
The one to cry tonight was Evora who after letting his emotions go in the hug he shared with his personal coach, went on to shake hands with all the finalists before taking a Portuguese flag from his own bag and embarking on a well deserved victory lap.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF