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September 28, 2000
Pedoroso wins dramatic long jumpThe Rediff Team
It couldn't have got better if the two jumpers in at the death just squared off across the long jump pit, pulled out revolvers and blazed away at each other.
In track and field's equivalent of a shootout at the OK Corral, world champion Ivan Pedoroso of Cuba, and the long-haired, flamboyant, beer-swigging, cigarette-smoking Jai Taurima of Australia duelled to the death before the Cuban pipped the Australian to gold.
There was no indication at the start of the drama to come, as Pedoroso easily led the field on his first two jumps. As the event is set up, each jumper gets three shots, and then the top six are given three more jumps each, to decide the medals.
And then, in his preliminary, Taurima sprang a surprise, taking the lead with a jump of 8.18 metres.
Playing the hugely vocal home crowd crowd like a virtuoso violinis, Taurima got them clapping to the beat he laid out, built it up to a crescendo, then flew down the track on a wave of noise to the massive mark.
Stung, Pedoroso in his turn, when about to take his own jump, asked the crowd to clap. The response was muted -- the crowd was clearly behind the local boy. The champion paused, breathed deep, eyes blazing at the unco-operative crowd, then stormed down the runway and laid down a perfect leap. 8.34 metres.
Out came Taurima, and the crowd revved up again. The 'Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!' cheered reverberated around the ground, the handclaps resembled a continuous drumroll of thunder, and Taurima raced down the runway and flew -- 8.40 metres, a personal best and a national record, surpassing his own mark of 8.35 metres.
Pedoroso matched the jump, doing 8.41.
Things were getting red hot out there. Back came the Australian, jumping immediately after the men's 200m final. The race had energised the crowd, with the Greek, Konstantinos Kenteris, storming to a completely unexpected win against an elite field. There was the heady buzz of adrenalin all around, and Taurima orchestrated it to his advantage, getting the crowd chanting and clapping, waiting for long moments while the sound built to an incredible crescendo, and then taking off at a dead run, to hit the board perfectly and soar to yet another personal best -- 8.49.
The Australian was 8 centimetres ahead of the world champion, and the smell of upset hung in the air.
This time, Pedoroso didn't bother with the crowd. Racing down the runway like a sprinter trying to chase down Maurice Greene, Pedoroso took off, arms and legs windmilling, to land an enormous jump -- and then get back to his feet and stare in anger as the official held up the red flag to signal a fouled jump.
Pedoroso took his jump again. And again, he came storming down, anger so obviously fuelling him as he took off, yet again, duplicating his previous jump. Roman Schurenko of Ukraine has moved into the bronze medal position with a jump of 8.31 metres.
8.55 metres in the long jump -- and this time, the flag stayed down.
Now it was all up to Taurima, the challenger. The crowd built itself into a hysterical frenzy, Taurima bounced around at the start of his run, soaking it all in, took off down the track -- and touched down well under the mark he himself had touched earlier. The Australian had cleared 8.28 -- and the 28-year-old Cuban champion had held his nerve, and taken the title.
Taurima is a character -- the kind of flamboyant performer crowds anywhere will come to see. But then, Pedoroso is no less. It was the native of Havana who, in 1995, broke a long-standing American dominance of the long jump pit (remember a certain Carl Lewis?) when he won the world championships -- the first non-American to take that title.
Two years later, he defended it successfully -- and this time, went one better on the Americans, as no US jumper had ever successfully defended his long jump title.
Two years later, in the 1999 Worlds, he was back -- and doing it again, taking the world title for the third successive time, in an unparalleled feat.
If there is one thing Pedoroso is yet to achieve, it is the world record. In 1995, he came awfully close, recording an incredible 29 feet, 4 3/4 inches in Sestrierre, Italy. The wind gauge read 1.2 meters per second -- which made the jump legal. And that meant that Pedoroso had broken Mike Powell's world record by a good quarter inch.
The result was an oddity, on a day of swirling winds where every other jumper went with the wind above the legal limit. The tapes were reviewed, and then it was noticed that as Pedoroso jumped, an official had accidentally moved in front of the wind guage.
The reading, thus, was not accurate, and the officials decided not to submit the jump to the IAAF for world-record consideration.
No matter. Pedoroso dominated long jump as few others have, from that blustery day in Italy on. He won 26 consequtive meets, and was favoured to take the 1996 Atlanta gold, when he pulled a hamstring and went into surgery. Pedoroso spent a month in a cast, and came to the Olympics unfit, and underprepared. He finished 12th.
The next year, he was back on track, winning 22 of 23 events in succession and ending the season as the world's best long jumper. What was left was the Olympic gold -- and in Sydney, he held off a strong challenger, and an incredibly vocal crowd, to stamp his seal on the event.
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