Helsinki, FinlandA medal for Finland, the host country, at last at these 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki but not the one they might have expected. It was won by Tommi Evilä, who finished third in the long jump, his performance bringing more noise to the Olympic Stadium than on any other night. But that was probably because of what happened in the first jump of the evening.
American Dwight Phillips lured the crowd into their rhythmical clapping and off he went, soaring along the runway and landing 8.60m. The gold that he was the clear favourite to win became his so early on that no one was ever going to go past this superb athlete.
But incredibly, what it did do was make for a fabulous competition below, which may not have been the case had the Finn been under some sort of pressure to win. But the minor medals for others became the gold for him as his third place was tremendous reward for the hosts who had so much wanted their javelin star Tero Pitkämäki to win. In the rain on Wednesday, the Finns went home disappointed when he failed. But not last night.
His success in a way overshadowed what was professionalism personified by Phillips. That is cool, that is the mark of a champion when you win an event which last over two hours with your very first jump.
He did, and it was one of those occasion where you could sense something special was going to happen.
Phillips was quickly away on the runway and soared through the air, landing well. He quickly looked back to see if the white flag was going to be raised - it was and Phillips had matched his qualifying jump of 8.60m, the best jumps in the world this year.
It was a superb way to retain your title and Phillips said: “This second World Championship gold feels great. This is one of the very top rated competitions I have had.”
“The atmosphere was awesome. I totally understand that the crowd was supporting the Finn but we all got great support. I wasn’t concerned about the other athletes.”
“I was focussing only on my own performance. After the first jump, I still wanted to jump far and break the world record (of 8.95m).”
“Now my next goal is that World record. I have promised Mike Powell I will break it. In the following competitions that is the only thing I am concentrating on.”
Amazingly, everyone of his final five jumps were given red flags but he did not have to worry. Though Ignisious Gaisah, of Ghana, cleared 8.34m in the third round for a national record and silver, the real drama was with Evilä.
The crowd could never have expected the excitement which was to follow as Evilä had fouls on his first two jumps.
But then his third round of 8.16m took him into third, only to slip back down to sixth as Gaisah immediately produced his record, then in the next round Jian Lino Martinez, of Spain, jumped 8.24m and then in the following Irving Saladino, of Panama, cleared 8.20m.
Later in the fifth round, it happened. The noise was electric and Evilä delivered. It did not look far enough but it was, it was 8.25m and it was enough for bronze.
“When I came here, I believed I could medal and it feels good to do so,” Evilä said. “After the first jump I had to move my mark 15 centimetres back. The second jump was also a foul and I moved the mark again, 15 centimetres back. I told my coach how much I moved it and he gave me the thumbs up and shouted ‘Your approach is excellent!”.
His coach by the way is his father Juhani, and boy, didn’t his son do well.
Samuel Peters for the IAAF