Any night that ends with being wrapped in a Greek flag and dancing to Zorba the Greek is usually a good one.
And for Ekaterini Stefanidi, following a national record and world-leading 4.91m clearance for pole vault victory, the first Sunday of the IAAF World Championships London 2017 can definitely be put in that category.
She won the gold ahead of the USA’s Sandi Morris, who was second with 4.75m, and Cuba’s 2015 champion Yarisley Silva and Venezuela’s Robeilys Peinado, who shared bronze thanks to second-time clearances at 4.65m.
The European, Olympic and now world champion couldn’t hide her delight in taking the title and the beaming smile on her face as she embraced her coach was evidence of just how much it meant to the 27-year-old to complete the set of major outdoor gold medals.
At the end, as Stefanidi attempted a championship record 5.02m, spectators late to the event might have been forgiven for assuming that the competition had been a straightforward one for the Greek champion, but that wouldn’t strictly be true.
Yes, she had the title secured with a first-time clearance at a relatively modest 4.82m, but until that point the USA’s Sandi Morris had looked equally impressive and the two were engaged in a close contest for the win.
Indeed, the battle between the top two from last year’s Rio Olympics was almost a competition within a competition, as none of the other 10 competitors looked like challenging and instead engaged in their own scramble for bronze.
The first bar was 4.30m and the first four attempts by Canadian duo Anicka Newell and Alysha Newman, Olga Mullina and Sweden’s Angelica Bengtsson were all failures. Only Peinaldo, the recently crowned South American champion, went clear at the first attempt. Yet nerves were settled and all made it safely through to the next height.
All but Stefanidi and two-time Olympic finalist Holly Bradshaw entered at 4.45m, with Morris, Silva and Olympic Bronze medalist Eliza McCartney looking particularly impressive.
4.55m proved too much for Switzerland’s Nicole Buchler and Newell as they became the first athletes to bow out, but 4.65m became the height that settled the fight for third.
Mullina, McCartney and Bengtsson all recorded three failures, while Bradshaw and Newman required three jumps, with Bradshaw’s clutch effort eliciting a deafening roar from the London crowd.
Germany’s Lisa Ryizh, Peinado and Silva only needed two attempts, although Ryizh paid the price of an earlier first time failure, meaning that the bronze was shared by just two athletes rather than three.
The 19-year-old Peinado responded to her own success in ecstatic fashion, leaping from the bed and jumping in delight at her country’s first ever senior world outdoor medal.
Meanwhile, Morris had negotiated every bar expertly, clearing 4.75m with a perfect record, having not looked like failing since entering at 4.45m. Stefanidi, too, looked untroubled, having confidently entered at 4.65m.
With the bar at 4.82m, Morris, who has a best of 5.00m set in September last year, had plenty of height with her first attempt, but couldn’t prevent her hand from dislodging the bar.
And after Stefanidi successfully cleared that height, despite grazing the bar with her chest on the way down, Morris decided to pass in the hope that a first time clearance at 4.89m would apply some pressure.
That plan failed after the bar was sent flying high into the air on the first of two attempts, while Morris’s feet dislodged it on the way up on the second.
In between those failures, Stefanidi had one of her own, but that mattered little.
With the pressure off and the 4.91m national record secured at the first attempt, Stefanidi went on to make three attempts at a championship record 5.02m, but removed the bar of with her feet on each occasion.
With all three major titles available to her secured, the champion reflected on the reasons for her progress.
“I think this result really shows that my coach is a genius, he really knows what he is doing,” she commented. “He prepares me physically and mentally. I am responding well to the training and to the competition so I am very excited for that.”
"Coming here, we wanted the championship record. But it was a big thing to improve my record and to break two records was just too much for me tonight. Once I win, I usually do not jump higher.”
"I normally get a little nervous but I felt really good this time. There were actually a few Greeks and people from Cyprus, the stadium was packed so it was a great atmosphere here.”
Dean Hardman for the IAAF