An 8.48m leap in the second round was enough to secure South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga his first world title in an enthralling, high quality long jump competition.
The 26-year-old had missed out on gold at the Rio Olympics last year by just one centimetre, but, on his return to the global stage, prevailed in another close contest, edging out the USA’s Jarrion Lawson by four centimetres.
While the top two were well clear of the rest of the field, the battle for bronze was almost as intriguing, as just nine centimetres separated Manyonga’s South African teammate Ruswahl Samaai, who produced 8.32m in the final round, and Yuhao Shi in seventh position.
Indeed, it was the best ever IAAF World Championship long jump competition in terms of depth, with Michel Torneus’s 8.18m for eighth further than any other athlete had ever jumped for that position since the championships first took place in 1983.
Similarly, Uruguay’s Emiliano Lasa can count himself unfortunate to miss the cut, his 8.11m the furthest ever jump in any competition to place ninth.
The quality that was to come was signaled from the first round.
Lawson began with 8.37m, 2013 champion Aleksandr Menkov produced 8.27m, Samaai, who lies second on the 2017 world lists with 8.49m, broke the sand at 8.25m, while China’s Jianan Wang, Torneus and Lasa also went over 8.00m.
Manyonga’s 8.48m in round two, which turned out to be the winning jump, seemed to inspire Lawson, who reacted with an 8.43m leap, while Wang improved to 8.23m, making it five men over 8.20m before the start of the third round.
Lawson continued to threaten Manyonga’s lead, with 8.40m in round three, 8.31m in the fifth and one final big effort of 8.44m with his last attempt. But Manyonga, who himself had further efforts of 8.32m, 8.29m and 8.17m, held on.
Menkov was in third place for the first four rounds, but his first round performance was his only valid jump and he was surpassed by Ruswahl in the fifth, who first matched 8.27m and then exceeded it with his last attempt.
Cuba’s 18-year-old Maykel Masso was another to improve his position towards the end, his 8.26m moving him ahead of Wang, the 2015 bronze medalist, and Wang’s countryman Shi moved from eighth to sixth at the death, producing his best jump in the sixth round.
All three medalists found relief after heartache of sorts experienced last year. In addition to Manyonga’s near miss, Lawson had narrowly failed to take a medal in Rio, his trailing hand denying bronze by four centimetres, while Samaai could only finish a distant ninth in Brazil.
The new champion reflected, briefly, on twelve months ago.
“I do not feel like thinking about the last attempt in 2016, this brings back bad memories, he explained. “It does not matter anymore because I have the gold medal now.”
“This gold medal makes me feel over the moon. I have been praying to get this gold medal. The world record is my next goal. Ruswahl and me are pushing each other through events. I am the best in the world – this sounds great.”
His teammate agreed that the wait had been worth it: “I have been waiting for this medal. I have been training hard for this moment just to get a bronze medal. It has really been a roller coaster the past two years. But I just told myself to stay injury-free.”
“Menkov stayed at third position for a long while but I just knew I had to get on the board, execute well and get a medal so I am happy. We planned this – we wanted two guys on the podium.”
Dean Hardman for the IAAF