Jeff Henderson in the long jump at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
US champion Jeff Henderson moved up to being a global champion when his last-round effort of 8.38m sufficed for the gold medal after an enthralling competition which saw the lead change hand four times after the opening round.
The first round saw defending champion Greg Rutherford, jumping third in the order, after all his problems in qualifying hit the board perfectly and fly out to 8.18m.
South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga almost matched him with the next jump, reaching 8.16m, while later in the opening round, Henderson took an early lead with 8.20m and his compatriot Jarrion Lawson slotted into second place with 8.19m.
In the second round, world bronze medallist Wang Jianan jumped into the fray with 8.17m and the other protagonists at this stage couldn’t improve, which meant that after two jumps just five centimetres covered the top five jumpers, separated in one-centimetre graduations.
In the third round, Rutherford went back into pole position with 8.22m and the hugely-talented Lawson, who jumped a PB of 8.58m at the US Olympic Trials, responded with 8.25m to take the lead.
Manyonga moved up from fifth to first in the fourth round with 8.28m and, with nobody else improving, then went on to add seven centimetres to his best with a leap of 8.37m in the following round.
The South African leapt out of the pit and extended his arms towards a group of delirious South African supporters seated by the long jump pit, perhaps anticipating the gold medal was his.
However, Manyonga fouled his final effort and then had to wait to see what the remaining four jumpers could produce.
Wang could not improve but then Henderson uncorked a season’s best of 8.38m to snatch the gold medal away from Manyonga by one centimetre, the US jumper grinning with exhilaration as he left the pit.
The competition was far from over though.
Rutherford gave everything with his last jump but possession of the Olympic title ended when he could only jump 8.29m with his final effort. It did, however, move him from fourth to third which left Lawson, who had gradually slipped down the order to fourth, as the last man to jump.
The US jumper unleashed what initially seemed to be a gold medal jump only to see the result of 7.78m flash up on the scoreboards.
The situation left the stadium and the jumper perplexed and boos erupted around the stadium with Lawson’s coach gesticulating wildly that there must have been an error. But a slow-motion replay broadcast on the stadium’s big screens showed the judges had been absolutely correct, Lawson’s trailing left arm had touched down in the sand close to the edge of the sandpit, which almost certainly cost him a medal, and possibly the Olympic title.
After a brief hiatus while the situation was clarified and Lawson finally signalled his understanding of the decision and mark, it was Henderson who got to wrap himself in the stars and stripes and take a lap of honour.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF