World Champs Women’s LJ — Vuleta’s Ally For The Win

Veteran Vuleta, a many-time winner at other championships, at last made the biggest splash at an outdoor Worlds. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

“MY GREATEST ALLY,” Ivana Vuleta has said, is experience, and indeed the 33-year-old Serbian long jumper has amassed quite a résumé. Over the course of her career she has won an Olympic bronze (’16), a pair of world outdoor bronzes (’13 & ’15), 2 World Indoor titles (’18 & ’22) and countless European medals — but never an outdoor global gold.

That finally changed in Budapest. The only woman to clear 7.00 (22-11¾) on a hot Sunday evening, Vuleta managed the feat twice. Behind her, American Tara Davis-Woodhall took silver and Romanian Alina Rotaru-Kottmann grabbed a surprise bronze.

Davis-Woodhall led the qualifying at 22-6½ (6.87). Fellow American Jasmine Moore also advanced, but Quanesha Burks, 4th in Eugene a year ago, fouled twice and her 21-6¾ (6.57) left her well shy of the top 12. The biggest casualty was Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, silver medalist in Doha, who fouled three times.

(Reigning champion Malaika Mihambo of Germany never made it to Budapest due to a thigh injury.)

The following evening the final began inauspiciously, with 7 fouling in the first round. Davis-Woodhall was one of those who did get a fair mark, taking the early lead at 22-8 (6.91). Vuleta had a long foul on her first attempt, then opened the next round with a 23-1¾ (7.05) that would have ultimately been good enough for the gold. Ese Brume of Nigeria reached 22-5¼ (6.84) to hold the third spot.

Nothing changed up top until round 5, when Vuleta produced an outdoor PR 23-5¼ (7.14) to pad her lead. Davis-Woodhall had two big fouls on her fourth and fifth attempts and had to rely on her opener.

The night’s only real drama came in the final rotation, when Rotaru-Kottmann, who had been lingering in 6th, popped a 22-7 (6.88) to move into bronze-medal position. Brume, who’d won bronze in Doha and Tokyo and silver in Eugene, found herself off the podium. Her final jump was just 21-7½ (6.59), giving Rotaru-Kottmann Romania’s first WC medal since Anisoara Cusmir’s silver 40 years ago at the meet’s first edition in Helsinki.

Pre-meet favorite Larissa Iapichino of Italy could never find her rhythm and finished 5th with a 22-4½ (6.82) best.

NCAA Indoor champion Moore took 10th at 21-5½ (6.54).

Competing in her fifth outdoor worlds, Vuleta was relieved to finally take gold, despite confessing to technical mistakes. “I was struggling with the whole competition,” she admitted. “But in the end I jumped 7.14 even with that, so I was ready for 7.20-something. Either way, jumping 7.14 is really not easy and I’m super happy.”

The always exuberant Davis-Woodhall was thrilled to earn her first global medal since taking the World Youth (U18) title 8 years ago. “I just went out there and I jumped and I had fun and I did everything correct,” the California native said of her opening jump, which held up for silver. “But those two fouls, they were massive. They were really big, and I’ll just take that into next year.”

For now, though, she was thrilled to see Vuleta finally get her moment on top. “It’s taken her 10 years — 10 years! — to get to this moment and if anyone was supposed to win, it was her,” a gracious Davis-Woodhall said. “I have looked up to her for so long. I know how much it’s taken for her to get to that moment.”