Yulimar Rojas became the first female Venezuelan Olympic gold medallist in stunning style as she shattered the 26-year-old women’s world triple jump record with her final jump – and then thanked Facebook’s algorithm for connecting her with the coach who guided her to glory.
Rojas, who is also a proud lesbian and prominent LGBT activist, jumped 15.67m to beat the previous world record of 15.50m, set by Ukraine’s Inessa Kravets in 1995 in Sweden.
The 25-year-old Rojas, who has already won two world titles and a silver medal in Rio in 2016, paid credit to her coach, the legendary Cuban long jumper Ivan Pedroso, with whom she linked via Facebook. After its algorithm suggested they be friends, she wrote to Pedroso to say how much she admired him. He replied that he rated her as well and then invited her to train with him in Spain.
“It was destiny,” she said. “It was meant to happen. I think that meeting Ivan through Facebook was definitely a turning point in my life. I just broke a world record and have an Olympic gold medal. This is priceless. I am making my dreams come true.”
Rojas, who had initially wanted to be a volleyball player only to find there was no team in her local sports centre in Anzoategui, beat Patricia Mamona of Portugal and her training partner, Ana Peleteiro of Spain, into silver and bronze respectively.
“I was looking for the world record, I knew we had that distance in my legs to get it,” she said. “I could hear the ‘wow’ from the crowd and Ana screaming – I didn’t have to look because my head, my heart, my body already knew. My coach was screaming and jumping and cheering. It is incredible!”
When told that she was the first Venezuelan female gold medallist, she said: “I think I am opening doors – and not just for myself. I am also opening doors for people who want to achieve great things and to write great things for my country.”
Meanwhile, more than 90 minutes after the Italian Gianmarco Tamberi won a shared high jump gold medal, he was still celebrating in the empty Tokyo Stadium. After he had cleared 2.37m, along with the Qatari Mutaz Essa Barshim, the pair decided to share first place – something that is allowed in the World Athletics rules if tied athletes are happy not to have a jump-off.
“The judge said: ‘Do you know the rules for the jump-off?’” said Tamberi. “And then we just hugged each other.”
Barshim explained his close friendship with Tamberi, and how they had helped each other to come back after injuries. “He is one of my best friends, not only on the track, but outside the track. We work together. This is a dream come true. It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit, and we are here delivering this message.”
The Italian said he relaxed by playing PlayStation with the 100m gold medallist Marcell Jacobs the night before they both won gold. Tamberi was able to join Jacobs to celebrate the sprinter’s gold just minutes after his own.
In the women’s shot put China’s Gong Lijiao lived up to her pre-Olympics form by winning gold with a personal best of 20.58m. The American Raven Saunders took silver with 19.79m and later made the first podium protest of the Games. Saunders, who is black and gay, formed an “X” with her wrists as she held her arms above her head – to represent “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet”.
New Zealand veteran Valerie Adams, in her fifth Olympics, was left delighted as she claimed bronze with 19.62 to go with gold medals in 2008 and 2012, and silver in 2016.
“This is a special day for me,” the 36-year-old Adams said. “Being able to achieve this as a mum, and a mum of two at that, is phenomenal. I’ve come back from motherhood and can still be at the top of the game. I’m testament to that.”
There was no joy for Great Britain’s Elliot Giles and Daniel Rowden in the men’s 800m as they were knocked out in the semi-finals.