Monday, August 18, 2008

Irving Saladino leaps into history, Panama's first Athletics gold

(BEIJING, August 18) -- The Men's Long Jump final ended with a gold for Panama when reigning world champion Irving Saladino, 25, became the first Panamanian to win gold in an Olympic Athletics event and the third to win an Olympic medal. Track sprinter Lloyd Lebeach brought Panama its other two Olympic medals at the 1948 London Games, two bronzes in both the 100m and 200m.

By the time he had progressed to the finals, 2007 world champion Saladino had marked himself as the outstanding favorite for the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold. Saladino had what some of his most competitors have been lacking in this summer's Game's -- consistency.

Early on, the then reigning 2004 Athen's gold medalist Dwight Philips of the United States failed to make the US team cut. And the three US competitors that did make it to Beijing failed to make it past the qualifiers, leaving a previously American dominated sport open to a field of well qualified competitors with medal favorites from Greece, South Africa, Cuba, Italy and Saladino's own Panama.

Going into the qualifiers, Saladino was expected to face stiff competition from Italy's Andrew Howe. When Howe was about to win the 2007 world championships, Saladino pushed Howe into second with his final jump. But Howe was also out of the Beijing Games sooner than many had expected, failing to make it into the finals with a best attempt under the 8m mark.

Another medal hopeful, and the leading jumper in the qualifying round, Louis Tsatoumas, 26, from Greece, came in last in the final with no marks.

Saladino who has proved his consistency even while fighting a hamstring, won the gold after an impressive display in the final, taking over world indoor champion South Africa's Khotso Mokoena's initial lead with a leap of 8.21m in the third round. And then again, when Mokoena snatched the top position back on his next attempt with an 8.24m, Saladino responded immediately with 8.34m in the fourth round, holding the lead till the end.

Mokoena was awarded the silver medal at 8.24m, followed by Ibrahim Camejo from Cuba who earned the bronze with 8.20m.

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