Anna Chicherova celebrates her 2.02m victory in Eugene (Kirby Lee - Image of Sport) © Copyright

Women's High Jump - PREVIEW

After winning a surprise gold medal in Beijing four years ago, Tia Hellebaut hung up her jumping spikes to give birth to her first child. She ended her retirement to return to competition in 2010, before taking another baby break last year, but the Belgian jumper is now back in action as she sets out to defend her Olympic title.

The former heptathlete ranks just sixth in the world this year, but has been extremely consistent. Throughout her 12 competitions this year indoors and out, all of her jumps have been between 1.92m and 1.97m. The latter height, her season’s best, was achieved in her final competition before the Games when she finished second at the London Diamond League. Could she be rounding into shape at just the right time?

Either way it will be a huge ask to defeat the likes of World Champion Anna Chicherova and World Indoor Champion Chaunte Lowe, the joint favourites for the Olympic title. Chicherova tops this year’s world lists with her 2.03m victory at the Russian Championships, where she had solid attempts at 2.08m. She also jumped 2.02m to win at the Eugene Diamond League, but finished only third at the London Diamond League with 1.94m.

Winner on that occasion was Lowe, the American record-holder, who has been in superb form this year. Like Hellebaut, she too has recently returned from childbirth. Earlier this year she won the World Indoor title, defeating Chicherova along the way, and she cleared 2.01m to win the US title this summer.

The last time an American woman won the Olympic high jump title was 1988 when Louise Ritter set an Olympic record of 2.03m. Lowe has since broken Ritter’s American record and could continue to follow in her footsteps by taking gold in London.

But at the US Trials Lowe only won on count-back, as she was pushed all the way by world finalist Brigetta Barrett. The 21-year-old will be making her Olympic debut, but could be the dark horse of the competition.

Aside from Chicherova, Lowe and Barrett, the only other athlete to break two metres this year is Russia’s Svetlana Shkolina. A top-six finisher at the past two World Championships, Shkolina has this year been in PB form with leaps of 2.00m and 2.01m.

Four-time European Indoor medallist Ruth Beitia has long been one of the world’s most consistent high jumpers and this year the Spaniard won her first outdoor major championships medal, taking gold at the European Championships. She will likely have to jump higher than her season’s best of 1.97m to challenge for a medal though.

Russia’s Irina Gordeyeva took bronze behind Beitia at the Europeans and later improved to 1.99m at the Russian Championships. A 2.02m jumper at best, the 25-year-old is capable of challenging for a medal on her outdoor global championships debut.

The event is not as strong as it could be though, following the absences of two-time World Champion Blanka Vlasic and World bronze medallist Antonietta Di Martino.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF