Dilshod Nazarov after winning the hammer at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
It might not go down as a classic contest, but after pre-competition favourite Pawel Fajdek crashed out in qualifying, Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov took his chance with aplomb.
It was the first time since 1984 that the event has been won with a throw shorter than 80 metres but that mattered little to Nazarov. His winning throw of 78.68m guaranteed that he will be given a hero's welcome when he returns home as Nazarov got his nation’s first medal of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in any sport and Tajikistan’s first gold medal in any sport since it started competing as an independent nation following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
"The reaction back home is going to be hard to imagine," said Nazarov. "I've got hundreds, maybe thousands of 'likes' on my Facebook account, so I think the country was behind me tonight."
Throwing 12th and last in the initial rotation, Nazarov led after the first round with 76.16m, three centimetres further than 40-year-old Belarusian Ivan Tsikhan.
Tsikhan took the lead with the first throw of the second round when he reached 77.43m and Nazarov could only respond with 77.27m.
However, Nazarov only needed one more throw to get back in front, his third-round effort of 78.07m, and he stayed in the lead for the rest of the competition, improving to 78.68m in the fifth round.
Nazarov could never relax as Tsikhan and several other throwers were certainly capable of reaching the distances he was throwing, but none did.
Tsikhan closed the gap on Nazarov with his 77.79m throw in the fifth round, pressuring a response from the leader, but neither man could improve with their final throws.
"Everything was very good but I am so tired after the competition," added Nazarov. "The heat wasn't a problem, because in my country it is almost the same, it is normal."
Del Real denied a medal
If the gold and silver medals stayed in the same hands during the second half of the competition, the bronze was swapped in round six from Mexico’s Diego del Real to Poland’s Wojciech Nowicki.
Del Real, bidding to become the first Mexican man to win an athletics medal since 2000 and the first one ever who wasn’t a race walker, had moved into the bronze medal position with his third-round 76.05m, the second-best throw of his career.
He couldn’t improve but stayed in third place all the way until the sixth round when Nowicki, the world bronze medallist, finally found his form and threw 77.73m to move up to third, hopping up and down for a few anxious moments as it looked possible he might even have overtaken Tsikhan.
The 22-year-old Del Real couldn’t improve with his last throw but certainly looks as though this will not be the only occasion when he’ll challenge for a medal at a global championship.
Hungary's 2012 Olympic champion Krisztian Pars has not been in the type of form that suggested a defence of his title was a realistic possibility but in a competitive – if rather less than awe-inspiring – competition which saw barely four metres cover the top eight, he finished a creditable seventh.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF