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Malaika Mihambo: The last-minute gold medalist

  • August 03, 2021

“Thank you for your support!” said newly-crowned Olympic champion Malaika Mihambo. “Thank you to all of those who worked with me and believed in me over the years.”

This season, that support was probably more important than ever. While her gold medal is anything but surprising, it was anything but expected given the difficult year she’s had. “No question, this was my most difficult competition and the most important seven meters I’ve ever jumped,” said Mihambo. 

The 27-year-old’s jumps were good in the past few months, but never when it counted. The art of the long jump is to hit the run-up in such a way that the jump takes place as precisely as possible on the board at maximum speed. Triple steps cost speed, thus also costing distance. Jumping in front of the board costs centimeters.

This is a problem Mihambo faced for quite a while. She changed her running technique in a bid to avoid injuries. Instead of running 20 steps, as is usually the case, she won the German championship running just 16. The Heidelberg-born athlete wanted to work with the longer run-up at the beginning of the season, but it never really worked out. 

Coach swap failed due to COVID-19 

This wasn’t the only problem Mihambo faced. The 2019 world champion’s intention was to move to the US, where legendary sprinter Carl Lewis was due to become her coach. “Only those who took this path are able to teach it,” Malaika Mihambo said back then about her to-be coach, an Olympic gold medalist himself. The move, however, was canceled due to the pandemic. 

Despite being a big fan of traveling and picking up inspiration from all corners of the world, Mihambo had to get used to working in familiar surroundings as she started training with Germany’s national long jump coach Ulrich Knapp. 

Germany’s Malaika Mihambo lept to glory in Tokyo

Mihambo only just achieved her goal of getting to the Olympics. With her last attempt in qualification, she posted her best result of the season at 6.98 meters. “I believed in myself, so I could let myself be free. It was good to see I had the right feeling,” she said on Sunday. 

Dramatic achievement 

The final in Tokyo was just as dramatic. Reaching its climax, Mihambo was third with having posted at 6.95 meters. Then, on her last attempt, everything fell into place as her competition failed to match her 7 meter jump. The celebrations began for the 27-year-old.

“I’m thankful that I stand here with the best version of myself. I’m unbelievably unhappy, and I enjoy every minute.”

In a few months, Mihambo plans to realize her move to the US, this time as Olympic champion, to be trained by another. 

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