Olympic Women’s High Jump — A Date With Destiny Realized

The world’s top jumper for many years now, Mariya Lasitskene finally got a shot at Olympic gold. (ANDREW McCLANAHAN/PHOTO RUN)

5 YEARS AGO reigning world champion Mariya Lasitskene was denied the opportunity to compete in Rio because of the (still ongoing) battle between Russia and WA/WADA/IOC over state-sponsored doping programs. Cleared multiple times to compete since then as an “Authorized Neutral Athlete,” she made the most of her first Olympic chance.

Since Rio she had been the dominant high jumper of the era, winning every global championship contested, every Diamond League crown and 86 (of 91) meets, including a 42-meet winning streak over 18 months in 2017–18, and rising to =No. 5 on the all-time list with a PR of 6-9 (2.06).

Her pre-Tokyo campaign, however, had been a struggle, with a 4th place at the Gateshead DL and only one 2-meter clearance. Additionally, a late-May leg injury set back her training for 5 weeks.

Two of the ’16 medalists have since retired: winner Ruth Beitia of Spain and bronze medalist Blanka Vlašić of Croatia.

There are always new challengers, the most recent being young Yaroslava Mahuchikh, who burst on the scene at the ’19 WC with 2 World Junior (U20) Records, topping out at 6-8¼ (2.04) for silver, behind Lasitskene, of course. As this year’s highest jumper, the 19-year-old Ukrainian would pose a serious threat to Lasitskene’s chance for gold.

A record 14 cleared 6-4¾ (1.95) in qualifying to advance to the final, although American hope Vashti Cunningham and Lasitskene actually needed 3 tries at the final height. Among those not advancing were Cunningham’s teammates Ty Butts-Townsend and Rachel McCoy.

A dozen were still jumping at the night’s fourth height, 6-5 (1.96). Iryna Herashchenko (Ukraine) and Eleanor Patterson (Australia) cleared on first attempt to share the lead; neither would medal. Mahuchikh, Cunningham, and Yuliya Levchenko (Ukraine) required 2 attempts each; Lasitskene the maximum of 3.

9 jumped at 6-6 (1.98) and the competition changed dramatically. Australian Recordholder Nicola McDermott took the outright lead with her first-attempt clearance. Herashchenko and Lasitskene each needed a pair to stand 2nd and 3rd. The only other clearance came from Mahuchikh, on her final attempt.

Cunningham and Levchenko were still in the competition, but only by the barest of margins: each missed twice and then passed, reserving a single attempt for a later height.

With the bar at the celebrated height of 2.00 (6-6¾), once again McDermott cleared on her first attempt. Mahuchikh and Lasitskene both made on second attempts and shared the silver position. Herashchenko (4th), Cunningham (=6th), and Levchenko (8th) bowed out.

With the medalists now determined, but not their order, the bar was raised to 6-7½ (2.02). For the first time in her last four heights the favored Lasitskene cleared on her first attempt, taking the lead from McDermott. The Aussie required two attempts, upping her NR with her clearance. Mahuchikh, who had struggled with her approach all day, missed once and then passed, trying to play catch-up at the next height, 6-8¼ (2.04).

Lasitskene cleared cleanly on her second attempt to take the yearly outdoor world lead. McDermott and Mahuchikh could not succeed, and the only missing major title was hers.

After a tumultuous season, Lasitskene tried to reflect on an unusual-for-her competition that included four misses below the winning height, saying, ”I don’t remember anything at all. There is a fog on my mind, a real fog. You are making mistakes. I was deadly afraid. At some moments I was shaking, at some moments it felt like my arms were falling off, and then my head started spinning. It was a real horror. I can’t imagine how my parents were watching this!”

McDermott, smiling broadly all competition long, had a different experience, “It’s such a dream, really. I went into this competition thinking that anything is possible, and I had faith enough to go with whatever others jumped, whatever the height.” Her feelings about Lasitskene were clear, “To see Mariya get an Olympic gold medal after all these years, I just feel so honored to be in the same competition.”

At the Victory Ceremony — the meet’s first and only with a Russian (“Russian Olympic Committee” in IOC parlance) winner — an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s famous Piano Concerto No. 1 was played instead of the national anthem.


(August 07) (temperature 82F/28C; humidity 81–84%)

1. Mariya Lasitskene (Rus) 6-8¼ (2.04) (out WL);

2. Nicola McDermott (Aus) 6-7½ (2.02) NR;

3. Yaroslava Mahuchikh (Ukr) 6-6¾ (2.00);

4. Iryna Herashchenko (Ukr) 6-6 (1.98);

5. Eleanor Patterson (Aus) 6-5 (1.96);

6. tie, Vashti Cunningham (US) & Safina Sadullayeva (Uzb) 6-5 (1.96);

8. Yuliya Levchenko (Ukr) 6-5 (1.96);

9. Marija Vuković (MNE) 6-5 (1.96);

10. Marie-Laurence Jungfleisch (Ger) 6-4 (1.93);

11. Kamila Lićwinko (Pol) 6-4 (1.93);

12. Mirela Demireva (Bul) 6-4 (1.93);

13. Maja Nilsson (Swe) 6-½ (1.84);

… dnc—Morgan Lake (GB).

(best-ever mark-for-place: =8, 9)

6-½ 6-2¼ 6-4 6-5 6-6 6-6¾ 6-7½ 6-8¼
Demireva xo o xxo xxx
Jungfleisch o o xo xxx
Herashchenko o o o o xo xxx
McDermott p o o xo o o xo xxx
Levchenko o o xo xo xxp x
Nilsson o xxx
Patterson o o o o xxx
Vuković o o xo xxo xxx
Lasitskene o o o xxo xo xo o xo
Sadullayeva p o o xo xxx
Cunningham o o o xo xxp x
Mahuchikh p o o xo xxo xo xp xx
Lićwinko o o xxo xxx
1.84 1.89 1.93 1.96 1.98 2.00 2.02 2.04

QUALIFYING (August 05; auto-qualifier 6-4¾/1.95)

Qualifiers: all finalists cleared 6-4¾/1.95;

(best-ever qualifiers-mark-for-place: 10–14)

Non-qualifiers: [6-4/1.93] (=highest non-qualifier ever) —Erika Kinsey (Swe), Emily Borthwick (GB), Elena Vallortigara (Ita);

[6-2¾/1.90]—Daniela Stanciu (Rom), Karyna Demidik (Blr), Alessia Trost (Ita), Svetlana Radzivil (Uzb);

[6-1¼/1.86]—Levern Spencer (StL), Salome Lang (Swi), Ella Junnila (Fin), Rachel McCoy (US), Imke Onnen (Ger), Ana Šimić (Cro), Kristina Ovchinnikova (Kaz), Nadezhda Dubovitskaya (Kaz), Airinė Palšytė (Lit);

[5-11½/1.82]—Ty Butts-Townsend (US). ◻︎