Anna Chicherova was everyone’s favourite but her own. It wasn’t obvious, as she sailed over first time at every height between 1.89 and 2.03 metres. Ultimately that would have been good enough to win. But a second time clearance at 2.05m sealed the victory, as her Russian colleague Svetlana Shkolina, and Brigetta Barrett of the USA failed that height three times.
Cue the tears, as the woman who seemed destined to win minor medals (two World silvers and an Olympic bronze) at the highest level has, within a year taken both the World and Olympic titles. At 30, she also became the first World Youth champion to win an Olympic title.
"This medal was my dream. I injured my back before London (Diamond League) a month ago, so I knew I needed to clear every jump first time, in order to preserve my strength, and not risk hurting my back. But when I went out onto the field, I was prepared to jump as long as necessary in order to win.
"Things have not gone very smoothly since Daegu, I’ve had lots of problems with my health, and that made me feel very bitter. If it hadn’t been for the Olympic Games, I wouldn’t have persevered. I even had an accident while weight training; the barbells actually dropped from the bar, and that injured my back too. It’s so stupid when something like that happens.
"So I know the price of this gold medal. I had to overcome lots of difficulties, and I had to overcome myself. I’ve wanted this gold medal for so long, and I think I deserve it. My tears were not for the camera, they were for everyone who has supported me".
Chicherova’s birthplace is recorded as being in Armenia, but she says she was actually born near Rostov in western Russia, but since her mother was a good basketball player, and moved to study and take up a sports post in Yerevan immediately after her birth, she was registered in Armenia. Her father was a high jumper, who started taking her to the stadium when she was very young. "There is a photograph of me when I was only three years old, trying to long jump." But, inevitably she soon began high jumping under father’s guidance.
Nowadays, she is coached by Yevgeniy Zagorulko, while she and husband, Kazakh sprinter Gennady Chernavol live in Moscow. She is a member of the Russian Army club, and her own daughter Nika was born just under two years ago, in September 2010.
There was an unusual moment at the press conference, when silver medallist Barrett broke into song, to illustrate to a questioner the hymn she was singing to herself in the arena. According to Chicherova, the US jumper had also asked before the competition if her rivals wanted to join her in a prayer. "She was so sincere and touching," said the winner, "I think it helped us. When I look at her, I see light. It caused positive emotions.
"Our prayers are a little different. After 1.97, I prayed to God to make me patient, and it worked. I’m thankful to my mother, and to my husband, and to everyone I live and work with. I wasn’t confident, but I didn’t want to let everyone down."