OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: High Jump: Sotomayor hits the heights

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The Independent Online
JAVIER Sotomayor became the first Cuban to win an Olympic jumping medal last night, a suitable reward for a great high jumper who was forced through no fault of his own to miss the Games in Los Angeles and Seoul. Sotomayor is still only 24, so the chance of becoming the first man to win the high jump title twice is there. But the story of a curiously desultory competition was one of youth.

In joint third place, behind Patrik Sjoberg, of Sweden, sharing the bronze medal with Hollis Conway, of the United States, and Artur Partyka, of Poland, was Tim Forsythe, an 18-year-old from Australia. Dwight Stones, the retired US high jumper who was himself an 18-year-old sensation at the 1972 Games in Munich, was delighted by Forsythe's mature display. 'Looking ahead to Atlanta,' Stones said, 'if he can stay healthy, and if he's got a good trainer, and he's handled properly, then he could be the future of this event.'

Among those hoping to give him competition in 1996 will be Steve Smith, the 19-year-old Liverpool Harrier who lost a gamble in the final last night but put down a significant marker for the future.

Smith, the reigning European junior champion, cleared 2.15 metres, 2.20 and 2.24 in the early exchanges, but then failed twice at 2.31, two centimetres higher than his UK junior record, set last year.

Then he made his gamble, opting to pass on the third jump and move straight on to 2.34, higher than he had ever jumped in competition before. Everything was staked on a single moment. 'I didn't want to finish sixth,' he explained. 'I wanted a medal. But I finished with 2.24, and that's why I'm so sick. I should have done it.'

Twelfth place was his reward, out of the final group of 14. He was very annoyed with himself, but not enough to have missed the positive aspect of his first experience of the really big time, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Sotomayor and Sjoberg, the charismatic Swede who is Smith's personal idol. 'It's been great,' the Englishman said. 'I'd just have liked a memento to take home. But I'm confident that by next year I'll be one of the world's top five jumpers. Now these guys respect me.'

Sotomayor won what turned out to be a less than completely enthralling competition. He came in at 2.24, skipped to 2.31, took 2.34 in a single leap, and then had a couple of unsuccessful shots at 2.37.

Sjoberg, the winner of silver in Los Angeles and bronze in Seoul, would dearly have liked this gold to round out his collection. He went straight through 2.24 and 2.31 and went over 2.34 at the second attempt. Then, like everybody else, he got stuck. One by one they fell away: Forsythe, Sjoberg, Partkya, Conway.

Sotomayor took a look at 2.39, loped up, and failed. It didn't matter. He knew that he had won on the countback, and that he had given El Comandante en Jefe something to smile about.