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Series31 May 2021


100 ones to watch in Tokyo: vertical jumps

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100 ones to watch in Tokyo - vertical jumps (© Getty Images)

As the countdown to the Tokyo Olympics continues, we add to our series highlighting 100 ones to watch in the lead-up to the Games.

Some are known athletics stars, some are gold medal favourites, others will be outsiders. But they all have fascinating stories that will be worth following as the Games draw ever closer.

Every 10 days we’re profiling 10 new athletes, each time focusing on a different area of the sport. So far we have looked at the sprints, middle-distance, long distance, and hurdles and steeplechase and now it’s the turn of the high jump and pole vault.

 

Thiago Braz

Thiago Braz

Brazil 

 pole vault

The Brazilian pole vaulter provided one of the enduring images of the Rio 2016 Olympics, earning the host nation's only gold medal in athletics and doing so with an Olympic record of 6.03m.

The 27-year-old hasn't made it on to the podium at any global championships since then, but he vaulted 5.92m in 2019 and went on to finish a solid fifth at the World Championships later that year. Whether lightning will strike twice remains to be seen, but his marks over the past 12 months are comparable to those he achieved in the year leading into the last Games.

 

Vashti Cunningham

Vashti Cunningham

USA

high jump

The US high jumper went to the Rio 2016 Olympics off the back of a surprise victory at the World Indoor Championships earlier that year, and so the then 18-year-old had a fair amount of expectation placed on her shoulders.

She placed 13th in Rio and fared slightly better at the 2017 World Championships in London, finishing 10th. At the two most recent global championships, she has returned to the podium with silver at the 2018 World Indoor Championships and bronze at the 2019 World Championships. Now aged 23, she is currently in the form of her life, having set PBs indoors (2.00m) and out (2.02m).

 

Derek Drouin

Derek Drouin

Canada

high jump

Things haven't been easy for the Canadian high jumper since striking gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Drouin has suffered two achilles tears and a serious spinal nerve injury which has threatened to permanently derail his career.

But the postponement of the Olympic Games may work in his favour as it gave him extra time to regain full fitness. He returned to competition earlier this month with a solid 2.24m clearance at a low-key meeting in Toronto and he then replicated that height to finish fifth at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Doha. A 2.40m at his best, it may not be too long before he returns to regular 2.30m+ jumps.

 

Mondo Duplantis

Mondo Duplantis

 

 

Sweden

pole vault

The world athlete of the year being touted as a favourite for Olympic gold isn't exactly a revelation. But the Swedish pole vaulter knows all too well that anything could happen on the day.

Few people, for example, would have predicted the outcome of the men's pole vault at the last Olympic Games. And two-time world champion Sam Kendricks is tough to beat in a championship setting. The US vaulter ended Duplantis's winning streak at the recent Wanda Diamond League meeting in Gateshead.

Pole vault legend Sergey Bubka, for all his dominance over the years, 'only' won one Olympic gold, so there are no guarantees. But if Duplantis performs to the best of his abilities on the day, he could provide one of the biggest spectacles of the Games.

 

Nina Kennedy

Nina Kennedy

 

 

Australia

pole vault

Nina Kennedy is the latest in a long line of leading Australian pole vaulters. The likes of Emma George and Tatiana Grigorieva paved the way for Australian vaulters, and now Kennedy - who earlier this year set a national record of 4.82m - has gone higher than them all.

A series of injuries - including a quad tear, hamstring tear and back issues - decimated Kennedy's 2019 campaign, but later that year she teamed up with six-metre vaulter Paul Burgess, who has unlocked Kennedy's full potential.

 

Yaroslava Mahuchikh

Yaroslava Mahuchikh

 

Ukraine

high jump

Almost two years have passed since her silver-medal-winning leap at the 2019 World Championships, and Yaroslava Mahuchikh - still a teenager - looks to be on the brink of becoming the new undisputed No.1 in her event.

The Ukrainian enjoyed an undefeated indoor season earlier this year, scaling 2.06m to move to third on the world indoor all-time list before winning the European indoor title in Torun, her first senior major title.

When the Olympics were scheduled to take place in 2020, her main goal was to simply make it there. But one year on, and with much improved form, Mahuchikh will surely have a medal as her target.

 

Nicola McDermott

Nicola McDermott

Australia

high jump

When most of the world went into lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, Nicola McDermott was determined to make good use of the time. "During lockdown, I’ve never trained so hard," said the Australian high jumper. "It gave me a real sense of purpose."

That became evident earlier this year when McDermott scaled an Oceanian record of 2.00m.

Her past two experiences of global championships have ended in disappointment, with a no-height at the 2017 World Championships and a 15th-place finish in qualifying at the 2019 World Championships. But perhaps it will be third time lucky for McDermott at the Tokyo Olympics.

 

Katie Nageotte

Katie Nageotte

USA

pole vault

The 29-year-old US vaulter made her international championships debut just three years ago with a fifth-place finish at the 2018 World Indoor Championships. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength to become one of the most consistent vaulters in the world.

Just last month she improved her PB to a world-leading 4.93m - her third career vault at 4.90m or higher - and followed it with three attempts at 5.01m. Just five days later, she won at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Doha, beating a field that was worthy of a global championships final.

 

Ernest John Obiena

Ernest John Obiena

Philippines

pole vault

It has been 85 years since an athlete from the Philippines has won an Olympic medal in athletics, but Ernest John Obiena hopes to end the drought this year.

While still a teenager, Obiena was encouraged by Sergey Bubka to try a training stint in Formia under the watchful eye of legendary coach Vitaliy Petrov. A few years later, Petrov became Obiena's main coach.

Winner of the Asian Championships and World University Games in 2019, the 25-year-old's progress has continued into this year. During the indoor season, he set national records of 5.80m and 5.86m, which are the kind of heights at which medals are usually won at major championships.

 

Gianmarco Tamberi

Gianmarco Tamberi

Italy

high jump

It was one of the most heart-breaking moments of the 2016 season. Gianmarco Tamberi was in the form of his life, having won the world indoor and European titles. He had cleared an Italian record of 2.38m indoors and went even higher outdoors, clearing a national record of 2.39m in Monaco, making him a big medal favourite ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio.

But then, during that same Monaco competition, when attempting 2.41m, Tamberi tore the deltoid ligament in his ankle, ending his season there and then.

Thankfully he has managed to return to action, winning the 2019 European indoor title and placing eighth at the World Championships later that year. During the 2021 indoor season, he twice jumped 2.35m - his best height since 2016. The 28-year-old will be heading to Tokyo seeking some form of redemption.

 

 

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