Maria Kuchina in the high jump at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)
Youth beat experience on Saturday night as Maria Kuchina defeated her more senior rivals in a high-class final to deliver a third successive Russian success in this event at the IAAF World Championships.
A perfect record up to and including a personal best-equalling 2.01m earned the 22-year-old co-holder of the world indoor title the gold medal on countback as she edged two-time former world champion Blanka Vlasic and Anna Chicherova – boasting a combined a 64 years and three world titles outdoors between them – to the ultimate prize.
Yet both Vlasic and Chicherova should be hugely proud of their efforts.
The Croatian jumper has only two previous competitions behind her this year and had not competed prior to Beijing since the IAAF Diamond League meeting in New York in mid-June due to injury. For the 31-year-old to come out and better her season's best by four centimetres was a mammoth effort for the 2007 and 2009 world champion, who also had her best competition since 2011.
For Chicherova, it was a record-equalling fifth world medal in this event to now sit alongside Ukraine’s Inga Babakova in what was a record-matching seventh world championships women’s high jump final, a total she shares with USA’s Amy Acuff.
Yet this was to be Kuchina's day, an athlete who richly deserved her gold medal thanks to an outstanding demonstration of world-class high jumping.
After all 13 finalists successfully cleared 1.88m, the first height which was to prove terminal for several competitors was 1.92 as we waved goodbye to Croatia’s Ana Simic, the Pan American Games champion Levern Spencer – one of two woman in the final from the small Caribbean island nation of St Lucia – former world junior silver medallist Mirela Demireva of Bulgaria, Uzbekistan’s 2015 Asian champion and former world junior champion Svetlana Radzivil and Nigerian record holder Doreen Amata.
Chicherova chose to pass at 1.92m and Vlasic needed a second attempt to clear the height and responded with her arms outstretched, as if to ask why she couldn’t do it first time.
With eight athletes still in contention at 1.95m, Germany’s Marie-Laurence Jungfleisch had an impressive first time clearance to be immediately followed by Chicherova and then Vlasic, the latter of whom greeted the successful jump with her finger pointed skyward. Kuchina also soared way over the bar with her opener at the height to send an ominous warning to her rivals.
Poland’s Kamila Licwinko, who shared the gold medal with Kuchina at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships, also soared clear at the height with her first attempt while the 36-year-old Spanish veteran Ruth Beitia – who bettered her own record as the oldest ever women's high jump finalist at a world championship – needed a second effort to succeed.
The height did, however, prove beyond Australian teenager and 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Eleanor Patterson and the second St Lucian, Jeannelle Scheper.
The quality of the competition was further illustrated as four women went over the 1.97m with their first attempt – Vlasic, Beitia, Kuchina and Licwinko – although it was the latter pair who held the joint lead at this stage having enjoyed a 100 per cent record to that point.
Chicherova cleared at the second attempt, but will have been frustrated to miss out at the first time. Jungfleisch, the sixth athlete still involved, gambled and passed following one failure.
An increasingly compelling competition proved history-making as for the first time in world championship history six women cleared 1.99m.
To add further lustre to the sheer quality on view, five women - Chicherova, Beitia, Kuchina, Licwinko and Vlasic, who delighted the crowd with a little dance of joy – all went over with their first attempt. Jungfleisch also succeeded with her second and last effort at the height to add two centimetres to her previous personal best.
It was to 2.01m that was to determine the three medallists. Vlasic gloriously clearing the height with her first time clearance and celebrating by collapsing to her knees and again pointed skywards in ecstasy.
Kuchina, however, responded by equalling her personal best to maintain her perfect record and strengthen her grip on the competition. Chicherova also maintained her interest with a second time clearance as 2.01m saw the demise of Jungfleisch, Beitia and Licwinko.
Unfortunately, after what had hitherto been a competition high on quality, the 2.03m height proved an anti-climax as it was beyond all three medallists.
Kuchina produced a superb effort with her second attempt only for ankles to brush and crucially dislodge the bar; and once Vlasic had made a brave but ultimately futile third and final attempt, victory was assured for Kuchina who follows her compatriots Chicherova and Svetlana Shkolina as champion.
Steve Landells for the IAAF