Slesarenko leaps into the record books
South Africa’s Hestrie Cloete was known as “the Flying Bird” due to her curious habit of waving her hands as she ran up to the high jump. The quaint nickname and almost comical looking technique belied a competitor of the highest calibre. Cloete had taken a silver medal four years earlier in Sydney and had twice won the world title. Now she was focused on adding an Olympic gold to her collection.
Four years earlier she had been denied by Russia’s Yelena Yelesina. The latter was not competing in Athens, but her compatriot and namesake Yelena Slesarenko was. The latter had emerged as a world-class athlete only a matter of months earlier after winning the high jump title at the 2004 World Indoor Championship title.
Cloete and Slesarenko matched each other jump for jump in the early stages, each clearing the first six heights with their first jump. The standard they were setting was stunning, with each clearing 2.02m at their first attempt.
With the bar raised to 2.04m, Slesarenko again went clear with her first effort, but this time Cloete could not follow suit. The bar fell once, and then again. With potentially just one jump left, she decided to take a risk and called for the bar to be moved up to 2.06m.
The Flying Bird winged her way into her jump but couldn't quite clear the new height and had content herself with another silver medal.
Despite knowing that the gold was already hers, Slesarenko was not finished. The adrenaline was still pumping as she cleared 2.06m, again with her first attempt, to set a new Olympic record along with the title.