It is hard to imagine an athlete jumping 17.73 in a triple jump final and having to stay in the background, but such was the fate of Fabrizio Donato.
Despite jumping 13cm further than his winning jump in Torino two years ago, the Italian defending champion was still 19cm off the stratospheric performance of France’s Teddy Tamgho who was quite simply on a plane of his own inimitable creation.
“The competition was very tough and intense, more than I expected,” said Tamgho.
“After Oprea and Donato jumped 17.62 and 17.70, I realised I was only third. At home, I couldn't imagine losing. So, I went to get a huge jump, 17.92 m, but I still secured this jump.
“I didn't push as much as I could. It proves that I can jump 17.90 at anytime. I did what I had to do to win, I was able to stay focused until the end. After the long jump final, I was hungry. I didn't want to finish with no medals.”
Arriving in Paris equipped with a world record 17.91, a great deal was expected of the man and he pronounced himself ready for the mission.
But words are fine. The problem is putting them into action. Could Tamgho take the pressure?
The answer was almost unbelievable. Not only could he take the pressure. He made the whole operation seem mundane.
The Frenchman not only pulled out one world record of 17.92 in round two, but an exact copy Made in France in round four just in case someone was not watching.
In fairness, the opposition did their best to unsettle the new champion. It was in Stockholm that Romania’s Marian Oprea showed that Tamgho might have a battle on his hands.
Though it was a foul and he lost against Britain’s Phillips Idowu, his final leap in the Swedish capital was massive and a possible sign of things to come.
The Romanian came out in the first round and lay down the marker: 17.62. Tamgho responded with 17.46. Was it possible that the unthinkable was going to happen. It certainly never crossed Oprea’s mind, although he was hoping for something better than bronze.
“I hoped that such a long jump as 17.62 would be enough for an even better placing,” said Oprea.
“I did not dream about gold, of course I knew that Tamgho can jump even over 18 meters.
“But silver medal was very far today. Every medal from big championships is a success and this competition had very special atmosphere. I am sure Tamgho can jump over 18m soon.”
Donato had forecast he was only worth 17.20 coming into these championships. Whether it was bluff or not is hard to say, but in round two he cut the sand at 17.70 sending the Italian fans into delirium.
Like the true champion he now is, Tamgho responded with nothing less than a world record and though he repeated the dosage in the fourth round, Donato was far from down and out.
Gathering himself for the seemingly impossible, the man from the Eternal City bounded down the runway. Incredibly, his step phase took him to the edge of the pit, but then he lost momentum in the jump and came down at only 17.49. His campaign was over.
“One could say that I lost my European title today!” said Donato.
“I could have done better, I know that. My fifth jump was really far, the hop was great, and the step was great, only the jump was the problem.
“If the jump of the fifth had been better, I really could have gotten the gold medal. But I really cannot complain because I improved my PB and our national record twice today.”
“The French audience was really great, they did not only cheer for Teddy but also for me.”
As he bounded out of the sand for the final time, Tamgho went straight over to his coach, Cuban Ivan Pedroso, and gave him an emotional hug before heading off on a lap of honour with, not one but two French flags, one for each record.
And so came to an end the most extraordinary triple jump competition. Anyone who witnessed it can say with some pride “I was there.”