There have been some extraordinary achievements in British colours over the first nine days of the Games, and while Yamile Aldama's fifth place in the triple jump last night does not demand inclusion among them, her journey to the runway in the Olympic Stadium is a tale few can equal.
Aldama turns 40 a week tomorrow but will not have the Olympic medal she so desperately craved to mark it with. This is her fourth Games, competing in the colours of her third country: from Cuba to London to Sudan and back to London, via Sydney and Athens, she has chased the dream. Last night her final chance arrived and she could not could seize it.
A best of 14.48 metres in her sixth and final jump lifted her up to fifth, 31cm off the bronze medal position. After a slow start she had improved steadily, but she never looked like troubling the podium.
The gold went to Olga Rypokova of Kazakhstan with her third jump of 14.98m. It was a season's best – the only one of the top six to reach such a mark on a blustery evening that made jumping conditions difficult. Caterine Ibarguen, the flying Colombian who had entered the Games as favourite after dominating the Diamond League, took silver with 14.80m. Bronze went to Olha Saladuha of Ukraine.
Rypokova, tall and leggy with a giant, lolloping stride, flew around the stadium in celebration waving the light blue and gold Kazakh flag. Her joy was understandable as she has struck gold in more than a sporting sense, as the Kazakhstan team are on a bonus of £160,000 to win in London. The incentive appears to be paying off as this was their sixth gold – a cyclist and four weightlifters having preceded Rypokova to the top of the podium – and they sit above Germany and Russia in the top 10 of the medal table.
A silver medallist at last year's World Championship, Rypokova's lead was never seriously threatened. The triple jump is a stop-start event and struggled to catch the attention of another 80,000 full house – there had been two million applications for last night's session – as the 100m semi-finals and even Mo Farah's gold medal ceremony interrupted proceedings.
The loudest cheers were reserved for the Cuban-born Aldama's attempts. It was a sluggish start and at the halfway mark when the 12-strong field was reduced to eight she stood sixth. Her final jump eased her up one place but it was not the ending that her journey demanded.
Her first Games came in Sydney for the country of her birth a dozen years ago and that was the closest she has come to an Olympic medal, finishing fourth. The following year she moved to London, having met a Scottish TV producer, Andrew Dodd. The two married and settled in Limehouse a Jonathan Edwards-sized hop, skip and jump from the Olympic Stadium.
It was a wasteland then and that was what Aldama's life was soon to become. "I have been to hell and back," she said recently of the experience that was to unfold in an unfamiliar city thousands of miles from her home in Havana. In 2003 her husband was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Aldama, who had no involvement in the case, decided to stand by Dodd and remain in London. That same year she topped the world rankings but with her British citizenship not due for approval until late 2004 – after the Athens Olympics – she could see her athletic career slipping away. She needed a passport to the Games and found one via Sudan, having rejected approaches from the Czech Republic, Spain and Italy. The Sudanese have always denied they made any financial offers and in the January of that Olympic year she undertook another unusual journey, flying to Khartoum to meet government officials and was granted citizenship.
Next stop Athens and fifth place, another frustrating step back. Her mind was now made up and she committed to Britain, where both her children have been born, and where she still lives in Wembley with her husband, and where she competes for Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers. Britain is her home now, but unfortunately last night she could not give the home side the victory she had travelled so far for.
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