Ivana Vuleta, photo by Getty Images for World Athletics
Lorraine Ugen, photo by Getty Images for World Athletics
Stuart Weir wrote this piece on the incredible long jump, which was a delight to the Serbian crowd, a silver for the Nigerian Esa Brume and a bronze for Lorraine Ugen.
The women’s long jump
The women’s long jump just had to be scheduled on the final evening of the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Belgrade. Among the local athletics fans, it was the most eagerly awaited event, the one in which Serbia had real gold medal aspirations. The attendance had been disappointing on Friday and far from being a full house on Saturday or Sunday morning. But Sunday evening with all that anticipation of what the local hero could do, resulted in, by some distance, the biggest attendance of the championships.
Five years ago at the European Indoor Championships – which I remember as if they were yesterday – the atmosphere in the same arena was beyond electric and Spanovic reacted to the crowd by finding the third biggest ever indoor leap, 7.24. Just two weeks ago in the same arena, she produced a 6.88m, the second-longest of 2022.
At the pre-event press conference, she made clear that she recognized the pressure of what was expected of her but confirmed that she was ready to deliver, commenting: “I am really happy that I will be defending my title in front of my home crowd, my people. I want to use all that energy. I don’t want to make a big announcement but I think I am capable of jumping that [7.24m] again or better”.
With all the field events going straight to a final, it resulted in a different kind of competition. A championship final will typically have 12 athletes, with four eliminated and eight proceeding to the three additional jumps
With 15 in the field, almost half the athletes would be eliminated at the mid-point. Making the final eight, was a much more demanding and stressful task than normal. The required distance to proceed through to the final eight was 6.69m. The pressure was obvious with 10 of 15 athletes fouling in the first round as they strived to achieve the required distance as early as possible. Notable casualties were Khaddi Sagnia and Larissa Iapichino, both with a 6.90m+ in her career record. Other big names survived, but only just. Lorraine Ugen and Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, a medallist in the triple jump earlier in the day, started with two fouls but found the required distance with a third and legal jump.
The early leader was Quanesha Burks with 6.77m, quickly knocked off her perch by teammate Tiffany Flynn (6.78m). Then in round two, Spanovic found a big one, taking the lead with 6.89m. It seemed at the time, and so it proved, a significant moment and 0 taking control of the competition moment. And just to remove any doubt, she produced a 7.06m in the fourth round. Whether feeling the pressure or straining too hard to produce another 7.24m for all the crowd, the 6.89m and 7.06m were her only legal jumps. In fact, only Ese Brume and Quanesha Burks managed to complete their set of six without fouls.
Lorraine Ugen was third, with just two counting jumps: 6.82m and 6.78m. She commented: “I feel really happy to have got on the podium. It’s been a little while as I’ve suffered from injuries and was deciding whether to retire or not, not having sponsorship behind me but I was like ‘you have to put the work in and do this to get back on the podium’ to prove to myself that I can be back at the elite level again. I scared myself at the beginning with those two fouls and I was like ‘please don’t do this, don’t foul three times’ so I was so happy to get that third-round jump in and it was enough to get on the podium”. Ugen has previously, having finished second to Spanovic in 2017 in that Belgrade European Indoors with 6.97m.
Let’s give the last word to Spanovic: “I had a duty to defend the world title. My medal was like a cherry on the cake. It was incredible. It was like an out-of-body experience. I didn’t have an easy task jumping in front of my home crowd. That built the tension for me. I was even ready to do longer jumps but that isn’t important now. Being a world indoor champion, I now feel fulfilled. Only my coach and I know what I am capable of. I tried not to use too much energy but it was hard because I was so excited. I knew it was going to be even more exciting than (the European indoors) in 2017, and it was. Technically, I could have been better but who cares now. Emotionally it was everything I expected. I just went for it because the atmosphere was just incredible. I’m really happy I gave my home crowd a show. I won’t show up to any competition if I’m not 100% ready, focused, and on my level”.
And the crowd loved it!
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