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The long jump conundrum: should athletes worry about paper trails in the sand?

Ivana Spanovic's bib during the London 2017 women's long jump. (Photo: Twitter/Veselin Jevrosimovic)
by Sonja Nikcevic, AIPS Media

LONDON, August 12, 2017 – Experts are calling it the most tightly disputed long jump final in World Championship history. As Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic went into her sixth and final jump on Friday night in London, she was in fourth place. The result to beat was Brittney Reese’s 7.02, with Darya Klishina and Tianna Bartoletta nestled in silver and bronze medal positions with 7.00 and 6.97. Her own result and season best was just one centimeter behind. The bases, so to say, were loaded.

Cue Spanovic’s final leap, which was no doubt, beyond 7.02. Her paper bib though wasn’t. Having partially been torn off due to a loose safety pin, it was the paper made the first mark, within the 7m line, leaving the Serbian without a medal and the IAAF with yet another long jump dispute.

At the Oslo Diamond league earlier this year, Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, silver medalist in Beijing 2008, saw her wig fall off in the sand. She stood and grinned as her hairpiece sat in the sandpit, the mark measuring in at 6.21.

In 2011, Belarusian Nastassia Siarheyeuna Mironchyk-Ivanova finished fourth, having missed out on a medal because her ponytail left a mark well behind her body’s 6.90 mark.

The measurement of Spanovic’s final leap in London came in at 6.91. Immediately after, her coach Goran Obradovic and heads of Serbian Athletics Federation lodged an appeal. As Reese and Bartoletta decked out twin American flags and Klishnina celebrated her first medal success as a neutral athlete, the official announcement of the long jump results was pushed back, and then back some more.

Had the protest been successful, it would have seen each of the medalists the ones to be pushed back a spot, with Spanovic winning gold. It was not to be, though, with the Serbian coming through the mixed zone in tears.

“Sooner or later that gold will be mine”

“It’s injustice. As hard as it is to admit though, it’s something that happens in sport. It’s not how I imagine the competition would end, but it means I’ll be even more determined to get gold in the future,” Ivana said. “It will be mine, sooner or later.”

The president of the Serbian Athletics Federation Veselin Jevrosimovic was less forgiving.

“The athletes had been having trouble with the bibs all day, the quality wasn’t at the level, and there was not much we could do in the wind.”

“We went into the appeal knowing that it would be tough to have the official measurement changed – as it would mean leaving the USA without a gold and a bronze,” Jevrosimovic said.

Ivana Spanovic's paper bib leaves a mark in her sand during her last jump at London 2017.

Paper and pins

The fact is that it does happen in sport - and in long jump in particular - as wigs and ponytails have proven. IAAF rules for the long jump state: All jumps shall be measured from the nearest break in the landing area made by any part of the body, or anything that was attached to the body at the time it made a mark […]

An official IAAF bib and a hairstyle or hairpiece of choice however are not the same, and bring into question whether a paper bib fastened with safety pins was the right choice for the highest level of athletics competition - the World Championships - in 2017 - in the first place.

Each long jump contestant had a bib to take care of though, and only Spanovic’s fell off, making her unluckier or less careful – or both – than the rest.

“From the next World Championship on though,” the Serbian Athletics President confirmed, “athletes will no longer have numbers fastened to the back with pins.”

The question that remains is whether London 2017, boasting advancement in track quality, hurdle quality, measurements and timings should have ensured that athletes didn’t have to worry about safety pins and paper trails at all.

“With so much money and technology, athletes have paper bibs fastened to both sides of their shirts flapping in the wind. That doesn’t make sense to me. Their names are written both on the front and on the back, all because of sponsors,” legendary sprinter, four-time Olympic champion and BBC expert Michael Johnson said.

He's not wrong.

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