Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Malaika Mihambo wins Olympic gold for Germany in the long jump

One last attempt remains for Malaika Mihambo. One last attempt, one last jump to secure gold after two invalid attempts in the Olympic long jump final in Tokyo. The 27-year-old is in bronze behind the leading American Brittney Reese and Ese Brume from Nigeria. A seven-metre jump is needed. She animates the few spectators to clap, starts, jumps off, flies and flies - to exactly seven metres and to the top. A murmur goes through the stadium. The waiting begins, she crouches down, watches the last two jumpers. At 12:12 p.m. local time in Tokyo, a sharp cry echoes through the Olympic stadium. Mihambo has done it. Gold! Then tears spring to her eyes. The fourth-placed athlete in Rio wins the seventh gold for Germany at the Tokyo Games. And this after a year in which she had been searching for a long time. In which she was plagued by self-doubt. And in which she initially struggled with the role of being Germany's great gold hope. "The cry, the tears - that was the relief, of course, also joy. A feeling I can hardly describe because this path was so hard and rocky," she says afterwards in the catacombs of the stadium. "I'm grateful that I can stand here now as the best version of myself and enjoy it. It's a humbling feeling of happiness because I knew it wasn't a given." Mihambo's 2018 European Championships gold and her 2019 World Championships title, which she won with a fabulous leap of 7.30 metres, had made her the new star of German athletics and she was named Germany's female athlete of the year twice in a row. The burden of being the Olympic favourite and the weight of expectations, however, brought all this down. "I thought quite a lot about what this new role would do to me, how I would like to deal with it," she said in an interview with the WELT shortly before the Games and openly admitted: "I have to say that it wasn't so easy for me at first. I had the feeling that I was going from being the hunter to the hunted." Before, she was one of many. Now she was enthroned at the top. "The feeling that I have to defend this position was new and unfamiliar. But I've learned to deal with it better and get away from it." Leaving for Tokyo, she did not see herself as the one big favourite. Also because she has had some problems this season. The crux with the roll and the run-up The thing with the run-up had not worked for a long time. After an injury, Mihambo had shortened her run-up from 20 to 16 steps in 2020, but struggled to get back into the right rhythm over a good 40 metres until shortly before the Olympic Games. "At the beginning of the year it was really a strain, there were a lot of lows," she says. "I tried my best but just couldn't manage to pick up where I left off in 2019. That's when a lot of self-doubt came up." It was a situation that, for her, was so out of step with outside expectations. How could she be thinking about gold when she was struggling so much right now? "I actually think I felt uncomfortable not because of being the favourite per se, but because I couldn't live up to that role due to my teething problems," Mihambo said. Then, as things started to go in the right direction, confidence and assurance returned in June. In Sunday's qualifying, she then declared the search for her optimal run-up over. "I am very happy that it finally worked out," Mihambo said of her third attempt at 6.98 metres. "It was the first jump that was on the board for half a year." Only Serbia's Ivana Spanovic jumped further in the qualification (7.00). Now in the final, Mihambo landed at 6.83 metres in her first attempt and second behind Nigeria's Ese Brume (6.97). Although she was able to improve to 6.95 metres immediately afterwards, the American Brittney Reese also flew to Brume's distance in her third attempt. Third place at half-time. A top jump was needed - but in the fourth attempt the timing and the rhythm were not right. Mihambo ran through. In the fifth attempt she over-stepped. She only had one chance left. With strong nerves and incomparable coolness, she jumped exactly to the seven-metre mark in her last attempt. Mihambo could only watch, not intervene. "For me it was a bad moment to wait," she says. The 27-year-old tried to take it easy, but she could not. "I just also knew that seven metres can be beaten. And then when you know you left 19 centimetres on the board, you don't carry that relaxed feeling. I thought, 'Oh dear, is that enough in the end?' It was enough. And all the tension fell away.