At the very start of 2012, Charles van Commenee was asked from whence a surprise Olympic medal might materialise for the British track and field squad. “Maybe one of the high jump boys will come good,” the GB head coach replied.
Robbie Grabarz was not looking the likeliest of lads at the time, having ended last year ranked 44th in the world and been dropped from Lottery funding after failing to make the team for the world championships.
With just the two successful jumps last night, though, the one-time Cambridgeshire county hockey player came good, claiming a bronze that takes the British athletics medal tally to five, one better than Beijing and just three shy of the London target with five days still to go.
Still, it was a close-run thing for Grabarz, who will have to share the third step on the podium with two fellow jumpers at the medal cere-mony tonight. Like Derek Drouin of Canada and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar, the 24-year-old Briton soared over 2.25m and 2.29m at the first time of asking before registering three failures when the bar was raised to 2.33m.
The Russian favourite Ivan Ukhov and American Erik Kynard both negotiated 2.33m at the first attempt but Kynard's compatriot Jamie Nieto passed on his final effort after two failures. That gave him one shot at 2.36m to deny the three men tied for third place.
To their credit, the 80,000 London crowd afforded Nieto generous encouragement on the approach to the bar. There were cheers and not a little relief, though, when the 35-year-old part-time actor, who starred as an FBI agent in the film Jerusalem Countdown, proceeded to dislodge the bar.
All of which left Grabarz and his coach, Fuzz Ahmed – a sometime bit-part actor in EastEnders and The Bill – with some material reward for their sterling combined efforts in 2012. It was a frank heart-to-heart last winter from Ahmed that promoted the change of attitude and infusion of belief that has transformed Grabarz into a world-class performer since the turn of the year.
"Robbie Grabarz, Olympic bronze medallist. That sounds pretty cool to me," Grabarz reflected. "It seems slightly surreal but, to be honest, I was slightly miffed because I should have jumped higher than that and got a better medal.
"But I got a bronze and that feels incredible. It feels a little bit like fiction right now. To the general public, I have come from nowhere and they'll be, like, 'Who is this kid with a medal round his neck?'
"It's fantastic. It's going to be tight for space up there on the podium but it's going to be fun."
Ukhov claimed the right to sole occupancy of the top step of the podium, proceeding to clear 2.36m and 2.38m for gold, with Kynard in the silver medal position. For Ukhov, it completed a four-year journey of redemption.
Back in 2008, the 26-year-old Muscovite failed to make the Russian team for the Beijing Olympics and blamed that disappointment – plus a tiff with his girlfriend – on his drunken antics at the Lausanne Grand Prix in September that year.
Ukhov's slapstick attempts while under the influence of vodka and Red Bull earned him 2.5 million hits on YouTube and a slap on the wrists from the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Sadly, Lawrence Okoye was unable to register a big throw in the discus final last night, the young Croydon Harrier finishing down the field in 12th with 61.03m.
Still, Shara Proctor landed the best distance in the qualifying round of the women's long jump, 6.83m, while a home straight semi-final surge earned Andrew Osagie a place in the 800m final.
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