At the Athens Olympic Games, Tatyana Lebedeva led a Russian clean sweep of the medals four days after she finished third in the Triple Jump, what was thought to be her strongest event.
Lebedeva heads into the Beijing Olympic Games not only as the defending champion but also as the reigning World champion as she led yet another Russian sweep at last year’s World Championships in Osaka.
Now the Russians, which will be represented in Beijing by Lebedeva, Tatyana Kotova who won bronze at the last two editions of the Olympic Games, and Oksana Udmurtova, will obviously be strong contestants for one or more medals but this year the status of favourite for gold lies on the shoulders of former heptathlete and reigning World Indoor champion Naide Gomes.
With her recent national records 7.04m in Stockholm and then 7.12m at her final preparation outing in Monaco, Gomes should be capable of taking her adopted country of Portugal’s fourth Athletics Olympic gold medal. Portugal hasn’t won gold since Fernanda Ribeiro’s 10,000m title back in Atlanta 1996.
The women’s Long Jump will have a superstar outsider in the likes of Carolina Klüft, like Gomes a former heptathlete, who has taken on the challenge to compete in two individual events (Long and Triple Jumps) after blatantly dominating the multi-events for nearly a decade. Klüft’s personal best of 6.97m (from 2004) can certainly be in the mix for a medal and this year the Swedish darling has been close to her best form with 6.87m. A true competitor one can expect her to rise to the occasion.
Interestingly Gomes and Klüft competed in the same event in Athens 2004, when Klüft won the Heptathlon and Gomes was a distant 13th.
Brazil’s Maurren Higa Maggi, who was runner-up in Valencia this winter, is also among the potential medallists, her season’s best 6.99m being second only to Gomes in the entry lists for Beijing.
Americans, as in most athletics events, should always be taken into consideration for a place on the podium and it will be no different in the women’s Long Jump as the trio of Brittney Reese, Grace Upshaw and Funmi Jimoh will attempt to defy the European challenge.
After the disqualification of Marion Jones from the record books, one has to go as far back as 1996 to find the last American to make it to the podium in this event, Jackie Joyner-Kersee just scraping into the medals with a last round 7.00m.
Joyner-Kersee won the Olympic title in what still stands as the Olympic record 7.40m back in 1988 and if history is to repeat itself we may see yet another former heptathlete crowned in the women’s Long Jump in Beijing.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF