Before the first medal event--Women's Long Jump--was even done, I saw Carolina Kluft coming through the mixed zone. She did not jump far enough in her first three attempts to continue. This was a big deal because Kluft was the reigning Olympic heptathlon gold medalist. She decided to skip that event this Olympics to focus specifically on events like the long jump. I knew she was bummed, but I had to interview her because she's still a popular name.
First, I asked her if she was still satisfied with her event decision. Her answer, "Yes." I asked why, she said, "Why not?" I returned with, "Well, because you had more success last time with the heptathlon. What was the difference?" Then she gave the detailed response I needed. I had to push for the answer not once, but twice. Kluft probably would have dumbfounded me if it was my first time dealing with that. Sometimes athletes just don't want to tell you why they failed to reach their goals. Can you blame them?
Maureen Higa Maggi ended up winning the gold with her first jump of 7.04m. Tatyana Lebedeva had one last chance with her final jump, but came just a centimeter short. Maggi was excited afterward, but her reaction couldn't compare to the story of bronze medalist Blessing Okagbare. Initially, Okagbare had only the 13th longest jump of the semi-finals, 6.59m, leaving her just short of advancing. But the next day she had a second chance when Liudmila Blonska tested positive for drugs.
Okagbare's first jump of the finals took her an amazing 6.91m, blowing away her high from the semis and topping her career personal best of 6.70m. That jump carried her through the rest of the final round, securing Nigeria's first medal of Beijing 2008. She kept calling it a miracle and thanking God. It was beautiful. That was one of the best feel-good stories of the Olympics for me.
Some of the other athletes came and went in a messy scrambled heap. It was crazy for the relays because the start lists didn't come out until about a half hour before the races, so I needed someone to bring me them while I was stuck at my position. People were nice about it, though, and it helped a lot.
Toward the end of the night, there were only two events left. There was the decathlon, which Brian Clay had in the bag from the start, and there was the Men's Pole Vault, which had an awesome finish. First, let me give you my favorite line Clay said when I interviewed him. "Michael Phelps has got nothing on me." (pause) "Just kidding!" Not only was that hilarious, but the quote sparked debates in the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Back to the pole vault, it was between Evgeny Lukyanenko and Steve Hooker for the gold. The real action started when they separated themselves from the pack as the only two to clear 5.80m. Then both guys missed their first two attempts at 5.85m. Lukyanenko cleared the bar on his third try, leaving it up to Hooker to equal the task. He went up with the pole, and he did it. Time for 5.90m. Again, both missed their first two tries, but this time Lukyanenko failed to clear it on his final attempt. Hooker needed this to secure the gold. Otherwise it would go to the Russian because he cleared 5.80m on one try while Hooker did it in three. Coming through in the clutch, Hooker was able to clear 5.90. He celebrated for a while before realizing he had the chance to break the Olympic record, which was 5.95m. Sure enough, he set the bar for 5.96m. He didn't clear the first try, went over the time limit on the second and built up enough energy to clear it on try number three and set the record. That was a good win for the Australians, including most of the paid staff in the ONS office.