Ukrainian Bohdan Bondarenko’s display of steely gamesmanship paid off handsomely as he dominated the men’s high jump at the world athletics championships in Moscow on Thursday.
Bondarenko confirmed his staggering season form with a well-timed path to gold ahead of Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim, who claimed silver at 2.38m on countback from Canada’s Derek Drouin.
Elsewhere, Sweden’s Ethiopian-born Abeba Aregawi sealed the women’s 1500m title with a dramatic late burst.
Aregawi, who was only cleared to run for Sweden in December 2012, six months after receiving Swedish citizenship, clocked 4min 02.67sec.
American Jennifer Simpson, the defending world champion, took silver in 4:02.99 with Kenyan Hellen Onsando Obiri claiming bronze (4:03.86).
In a competition filled with high drama in front of an almost-capacity crowd at the Luzhniki Stadium on the coolest evening of the worlds, the jumpers delivered a great spectacle of high-quality.
Russia’s European champion Aleksandr Shustov opened up by sailing over 2.29m along with Guowei Zhang of China.
Drouin was first over 2.32m, but the Kazakhstan-born Shustov and Barshim failed at their first attempts.
Local favourite was Russia’s Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov, who sailed over with the vociferous massed support of local fans behind him.
Ukhov was joined by Olympic silver medallist Eric Kynard of the United States, and Barshim and Donald Thomas of the Bahamas at the second time of asking, and Shustov at the third.
But Britain’s Olympic bronze medallist Robbie Grabarz and Zhang both bailed out at the height, Bondarenko passing in a first bold move of gamesmanship.
Sporting one red and one yellow shoe, the Ukrainian came back in 2.35m and cleared it easily to up the pressure on his opponents.
And they lapped it up, Barshim and then Ukhov going clear to roars from the crowd. Shustov was left prone on the floor with hands on his head after failing three times at 2.35m.
Drouin was the first clear at 2.38m, followed by Barshim, but it proved to be too high for Ukhov, one of whose previous claims to fame was a huge YouTube hit of him performing in a competition while drunk.
Bondarenko daringly skipped 2.38m, and watched as Drouin then failed at 2.41m to leave the latter with bronze in a new national record.
The towering Ukrainian just clipped the bar on his first effort at 2.41m, just his third jump of the night, to up the drama.
A large Ukrainian contingent in the crowd, dressed in the national blue and yellow, were on their feet shortly after as Bondarenko cleared 2.41m to put himself in pole.
The bar was raised to 2.44m, just 1cm short of Cuban Javier Sotomayor’s world record of 2.45m set back in 1993, for Barshim and Bondarenko, the two best jumpers in the world this season, in the game for gold.
Barshim went close with his two attempts but came up short, assuring Bondarenko of topping the podium.
The Ukrainian had no hesitation about what to do next: put the bar up to 2.46m for a world record attempt.
He demanded no crowd participation on his first attempt, an eerie silence gripping the stadium as he went close.
It was more of the same on his second attempt, also narrowly missed as his buttocks grazed the bar.
A third effort didn’t come close, but that did not stop the Ukrainian’s exuberant celebrations.