Yarisley Silva proved alchemy is alive and well by somehow rescuing several precarious positions to strike gold in a captivating women’s pole vault competition of unprecedented depth.
The Cuban, who needed three attempts to scramble clear at 4.70m, soared over 4.90m on her final effort to break the heart of Brazil’s Fabiana Murer and earn top spot on the podium.
Into the bargain, it sent the Cuban contingent in the stands by the pole vault into raucous ecstasy.
Greece’s Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou was rewarded with bronze courtesy of a 4.80m clearance.
Yet it was Silva’s day as for the first time in her career she stood on the top of a global outdoor championship podium, having previously won silver and bronze respectively at the London 2012 Olympics and 2013 IAAF World Championships.
The early stages of the competition bubbled away nicely with the occasional spike in crowd participation, and ear-splitting noise, created principally by the first-time clearances at 4.35m, 4.50m and 4.60m by home hope and Asian record-holder Li Ling.
Twelve of the 14 finalists successfully negotiated 4.60m and although five women were eliminated at 4.70m – including Li, to the sighs of the crowd – seven women cleared the height, an unprecedented achievement in the history of the women’s pole vault.
Four women boasted a flawless record up this point including the US duo, Sandi Morris and Jenn Suhr, Murer and two-time world junior champion Angelica Bengtsson, who posted a Swedish record in the process.
Great Britain’s Holly Bradshaw also cleared 4.70m on her first attempt, although Kyriakopoulou – competing in familiar bright blue Greek kit – needed a second effort to earn the white flag.
Silva, however, was obviously struggling at 4.70m. She had made two modest attempts and was teetering on the brink of elimination until she steadied the rising nerves of her supporters with a third-time clearance to earn her safe passage through to 4.80m.
The magnificent seven who had cleared 4.70m found 4.80m a tougher assignment as the three medallists, if not the eventual order, were determined at this height.
Six vaulters tried and failed at the first time of asking until Kyriakopoulou wriggled over and, when landing on the pole vault bed, punched the air in triumph.
It was Silva who first responded with a majestic second-time clearance at 4.80m. Murer too, got her angles right to pop over 4.80m on attempt two.
This height, however, proved to be the end for Suhr, the Olympic champion.
Silva had been far from completely convincing up until this height but the Pan American Games champion struck the first blow with a first-time 4.85m clearance.
She brushed the bar with her chest but crucially it remained on the horizontals, leading to the jubilant Cuban supporters to launch into a series of frenzied high fives and hugs.
Yet Murer is the consummate big time performer and produced the perfect counter punch.
With her very next jump, at 4.85m, she too rattled the bar with her chest but despite the bar bouncing twice, it remained secure as she matched her South American record.
Kyriakopoulou could not repeat the feat with her first attempt and decided her best strategy was to then pass.
The bar was raised to 4.90m and it proved the end of Kyriakopoulou’s challenge.
After Murer and Silva registered two fouls apiece, it looked set for a Brazilian victory. Yet Silva somehow summoned up the will and energy to propel herself over this height, one centimetre below her recent personal best, at the third time of asking.
As her headband flopped from her head on landing, she then punched the air in ecstasy. As a measure of the quality of the clearance, only world record-holder Yelena Isinbayeva, Suhr and Silva herself have vaulted higher.
A slightly shell-shocked Murer could not respond and the 1-2-3 was finally settled. Silva then set the bar at a championship record of 5.01m but with fatigue setting in and the gold medal already in her pocket she missed out.
No matter, it was a night in Beijing when a woman called Silva really did find the Midas touch and turn silver into gold.
Steve Landells for the IAAF