Thiago da Silva won Brazil’s first athletics gold of their home Games on an extraordinary, unforgettable Monday night in Rio, producing an Olympic record of 6.03 metres in the pole vault to beat hot favourite Renaud Lavillenie and send the fans into raptures.
A roar to match anything from Sunday’s 100 metres final – produced by a crowd a quarter of the size – accompanied the 22-year-old as he sailed over the bar, leaving the French world record holder and defending champion one more chance to beat him.
Lavillenie failed and Brazil had a new, and totally unexpected, hero and their first male athletics gold medal winner since Joaquim Cruz won the 800 metres in 1984.
“The gold – incredible,” said Da Silva, who came into the Games with a best of 5.93. “My first time over six metres. My home town wanted me to win.
“The crowd were cheering me too much. I had to fix my mind on my technique, forget the people.”
There had already been drama aplenty on a night dogged by heavy rain that caused a brief suspension of action.
David Rudisha and Shaunae Miller showed that there are different ways to cross the line first, but their gold medals will be the same after thrilling 800 and 400 metres finals.
Kenya’s Rudisha, who won the 800m in world record style four years ago, delivered a dominant last lap, striding home majestically to become the first man since New Zealander Peter Snell in 1964 to successfully defend the 800m title.
Bahamian Miller, conversely, was tying up desperately but hurled herself across the line, crashing to the track in the process, to just get the nod ahead of American Allyson Felix.
There were also golds for Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk, with a world record in the women’s hammer and 19-year-old Ruth Jebet of Bahrain via Kenya in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase.
After the drama of Usain Bolt on Sunday, it looked as if the combination of a poor crowd and heavy rain would produce a flat atmosphere just 24 hours later.
The pole vault, so often the forgotten event of athletics as it chugs on relentlessly in the background with all the attention on the track, gradually became the prime focus when the crowd realised that the man in green kept clearing.
One by one Da Silva’s rivals dropped off but the odds were still stacked heavily in favour of Lavillenie, whose world record of 6.16m meant his final attempt at 6.08 was well within range, despite two failures at 6.03.
Brazilians may have been criticised for not being the most sophisticated athletics fans in the world but they knew what was going on enough to take the roof off the Olympic Stadium when the Frenchman failed – though he was unimpressed by their booing as he made his preparations.
“There was no fair play from the public,” Lavillenie said. “It is for football, not track and field.
“For the Olympics it is not a good image. I did nothing to the Brazilians.”
Da Silva’s heroics somewhat overshadowed another imperious display by Rudisha, who two months ago was struggling badly with injuries.
He bided his time on Monday and then took control just as he did when at his peak to come home in 1.42.15.
Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi took silver while fast-finishing American Clayton Murphy grabbed bronze.
In the morning session, Wlodarczyk underscored her total dominance of the women’s hammer with a world record of 82.29 metres to win gold by a massive 5.54 metres.
Wlodarczyk now has the eight longest throws in history and is the only woman to clear 80 metres.
“I thought, ‘this is that day’,” she said. “It was worth giving it a go because you never know if it’s going to happen again – parents in the stands, fans cheering… I think I’m the happiest woman in the world right now.”
Bolt begins the second leg of his triple-triple on Tuesday when he runs in the 200m heats in the morning.
The highlights of the evening session include the 110m hurdles final and the final of the women’s 1,500m, which four years ago was so ravaged by doping that it has since replaced the 1988 100 metres final as the “Dirtiest Race In History”.