gives South Africa Gold
Ed Gordon for the IAAF
12 August 2001 – Edmonton - There was absolutely no possibility that Hestrie
Cloete would successfully clear her final attempt in the high jump on Sunday
afternoon. Already with the knowledge that she had won, the South African's
eyes were so flooded with tears that it was all she could do to keep the
crossbar in focus.
Cloete won a close-fought battle against the
defending world champion Inga Babakova of Ukraine, one which saw both jumpers
clear 2.00, the event's benchmark height, as Cloete won on a countback.
The Germiston native, previously a gold
medalist in the Commonwealth and African championships, was a picture of extreme
relief at the end. "It was a very tough competition. It was very stressful who
would win in the end."
For the 22-year-old Cloete, the top step of the
medal podium was a three-year journey, starting in 1999 when her 2.04 jump at
the Monaco Golden League meeting set the standard for the world's female high
Billed as one of the favourites in Seville, she
sent a shock wave through the stadium when she failed to make it past the
In Sydney, things went much better as she took
the silver medal with 2.01, the same height cleared by the winner Yelena
Yelesina of Russia. Ironically, it was Yelesina who prevented a rematch in
Edmonton when she was eliminated in the preliminaries.
Now, Cloete can finally feel the honour that
goes with a global win as she presented her country with its only gold medal in
But she knows that her event is unforgiving of
errors, and that a minute slip-up can cause a medal to quickly vanish.
"I'm trying to improve every year. I keep
concentrating on my technique, knowing that I must continue to make strides
Babakova, a native of Turkmenistan and a dual
citizen of both Lithuania and Ukraine, was winning her fifth World Championships
medal--a second silver to accompany her 1999 gold and two previous bronzes.
At age 34--and the oldest competititor in the
final--she showed no disappointment in not successfully defending her title.
Her only complaint was with the wind, which hampered everyone.
"The strong headwind was blowing in my face and
causing difficulties with my technique. But I got some good advice from my
coach--and my husband--and I consider my silver medal a product of our
Kajsa Bergqvist of Sweden, the world indoor
champion from last winter, matched the bronze medal she won in Sydney. Sporting
a clean record through 1.97 and tied for the lead with Cloete, she found 2.00
out of reach today.
Clearly, changing wind conditions contributed
to some premature exits. After jumping was complete at the second crossbar
placement of 1.90, only one of the twelve finalists had been eliminated. But
after 1.94, as the wind began to pick up strength, the field was down to six.
Most surprising were the difficulties of
Bulgarian Venelina Veneva, whose 2.04 was leading the season prior to Edmonton.
With scattered misses throughout the day, she easily lost out on the bronze
medal against Bergqvist on a countback.
A name to be reckoned with in the future is
Blanka Vlasic of Croatia. The 17-year-old World Junior Champion from last year
placed sixth with 1.94, only one centimetre off her personal best and in the
biggest pressure cooker she has seen to date.
Cloete once told a South African publication
that she chose high jumping because she wanted to "reach for the clouds". Those
clouds, which last year had a truly silver lining after her second-place Sydney
performance, have suddenly turned to gold.