Russian jumper Lasitskene earns ROC’s first gold at track

Aug 6, 2021, 7:11 PM | Updated: Aug 7, 2021, 7:37 am

TOKYO (AP) — Mariya Lasitskene’s long wait is over. So is her country’s.

The high jumper from the team representing the Russian Olympic Committee won gold on Saturday night, clearing 2.04 meters to edge Australia’s Nicola McDermott and give the ROC its first gold of the week-long meet at a sweltering Olympic Stadium.

Sanctions as part of a penalty for widespread doping limited the ROC to bring just 10 track and field athletes to Japan. After eight days of watching her teammates largely come up empty, Lasitskene delivered on her sport’s biggest stage.

It didn’t come easy. Lasitskene ran into trouble at 1.96 meters, missing her first two attempts before advancing. She smacked into the bar during her first jumps at 1.98 and 2.00 meters, too. Yet she persevered, setting up a duel with the vibrant McDermott.

Raising her hands over her head to urge the sparse crowd — comprised almost entirely of other athletes and assembled media — to clap in rhythm, McDermott would smile and scream “Let’s Go” before taking large looping strides toward the bar.

Lasitskene, by contrast, was all business. They were the only two jumpers to clear 2.02 meters. When the bar was raised to 2.04, Lasitskene made it on her second try. McDermott nearly matched her on her third and final attempt, only to clip the bar.

Then, Lasitskene’s stoicism vanished. She began jumping up and down before placing her head in her hands, a dream deferred by the actions of others at long last realized.

The 28-year-old Lasitskene is the only jumper — male or female — to win three world championships. She was heavily favored heading into Rio de Janeiro five years ago but wasn’t allowed to compete after World Athletics banned all but one Russian athlete in the sport as part of the fallout from a doping investigation.

Lasitskene has long been a vocal critic of the Russian track federation for its unwillingness to clean up its act. She spent several years competing as an authorized neutral athlete while being closely watched by World Athletics. The decision forced her to compete in neutral colors while winning the world championship in both 2017 and 2019.

Even the highlight of a career that includes every major title within her discipline came with a bit of an asterisk. As Lasitskene ran around the track in celebration, she waved not the Russian flag but one representing the Olympic rings, part of a largely hollow slap on the wrist by the IOC.

Not that it seemed to bother her much. She embraced McDermott as they celebrated after their duel.

Yaroslava Mahuchikh of Ukraine earned bronze. American Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, made it over at 1.96 but could go no further and finished sixth.

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AP Sports Writer James Ellingsworth contributed to this report.

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Russian jumper Lasitskene earns ROC’s first gold at track