Mariya Lasitskene should have been here five years ago. Politics got in the way. And it ate at her as the Russian high jumper prepared for the Tokyo Games. She was the reigning world champion heading into Rio de Janeiro.
Then the Russian track federation was basically banned from the 2016 Olympics as part of the fallout from a doping scandal.
“It has broken a lot of careers,” Lasitskene said. “Partially mine,too.” Well, maybe not anymore.
The 28-year-old ended her long wait, and her country’s too, by clearing 2.04 meters to edge Australia’s Nicola McDermott and give the team representing the Russian Olympic Committee its first gold of the week-long meet at a sweltering Olympic Stadium.
It didn’t come easy. Lasitskene ran into trouble at 1.96 meters, missing her first two attempts before advancing. She smacked into the bar during her first jumps at 1.98 and 2.00 meters, too.
Yet she persevered, setting up a duel with the vibrant McDermott. Raising her hands over her head to urge the sparse crowd — comprised almost entirely of other athletes and assembled media — to clap in rhythm, McDermott would smile and scream “Let’s Go” before taking large looping strides toward the bar. Lasitskene, by contrast, was all business.
Nerves had started creeping up on her long before she arrived in Tokyo, well aware that this could be her first — and perhaps only — shot at Olympic gold.
She did her best to block it out as the competition wore on, even though she knew the ROC teammates who had joined her in Japan had struggled to find success.—AP