The long jump final took a bit of time to get started, but it really came to life in the fifth round and proved to be one of the most exciting contests of the Games so far.
Germany’s Malaika Mihambo was the first to jump. Her 6.83m opener survived as the leading mark for eight more jumps until Ivana Spanovic went out to 6.95m with her opening effort.
After a foul in the first round, world champion Tianna Bartoletta landed at 6.94m with her second jump to challenge Spanovic’s lead. She then jumped 6.95m in the third round to take pole position on countback.
Defending Olympic champion Brittney Reese, meanwhile, wasn’t having the best of starts. She fouled in the first round with a leap that looked to be about seven metres. The three-time world champion then jumped 6.79m in round two – taking off 20 centimetres behind the plasticine – to move into fourth. But she still had ground to make up.
After Bartoletta took the lead in round three, Reese responded with another jump that looked to be in the region of seven metres, but she was two centimetres into the plasticine.
Spanovic then took a turn to challenge Bartoletta’s lead. The Serbian landed way beyond the seven-metre mark, but the red flag was raised and a replay on the big screen showed that her foot was agonisingly one centimetre into the plasticine.
Another round, another big foul for Reese. Her fourth-round leap was this time two centimetres over the line.
But in the next round, Reese finally showed what she was capable of, flying out to 7.09m to take the lead. It was the first seven-metre leap of the night, but they then came thick and fast.
Within a matter of minutes, Mihambo improved to 6.95m while Spanovic came within one centimetre of Reese’s mark, jumping a Serbian record of 7.08m to move back into second place.
Bartoletta, fired up not only by having her lead taken away but also of the memories of missing the 100m final by one place, then charged down the runway and landed at a lifetime best of 7.17m to regain the lead.
With just one round left in which to improve, the top three all produced solid final efforts, but none of them were enough to alter the standings.
Spanovic jumped 7.05m, while Reese – with 11 centimetres to spare on the board – sailed out to 7.15m, her best of the night but just two centimetres shy of Bartoletta’s lead.
Having been confirmed the winner, Bartoletta concluded her series with a 7.13m leap.
"I couldn't really celebrate," said Bartoletta, who won her first global title back in 2005. "I kept thinking that at any moment someone can jump something huge. Then, when I won, I realised that I have to be back in the morning for the relay."
Reese, meanwhile, was gracious in defeat.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot these past two years, emotionally and physically, battling back from surgery. Tianna just outjumped me this time. She deserves it and I’m just glad to be on the podium again.”
Nigeria’s 20-year-old Ese Brume was fifth with 6.81m, while Estonia’s Ksenija Balta was sixth with 6.79m. Australia’s Brooke Stratton took seventh with 6.74m with Britain’s Jazmin Sawyers rounding out the top eight with a best of 6.69m.
In a high-quality competition, it was the first time that 11 women had jumped 6.58m or farther in an Olympic final. The last time 6.69m was good enough for just eighth place was back in 1980.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF