Freitag fulfils old prophecy
South African Jacques Freitag won the men's high jump at the World Championships on Monday to fulfil a prediction he made four years ago.
As a brash 17-year-old, flushed with delight after winning the boy's high jump at the 1999 World Youth Championships, he bragged, "I'll be a world champion within four years."
"Can I win the Olympic Games in Athens? Let me tell you, I'll be on top of the world before then."
Now a more mature individual in both word and deed, Freitag sneaked over with his first attempt at 2.35 metres to throw down the gauntlet to the two remaining jumpers and neither man could pick it up.
Continuing a trend on Monday night, Freitag followed the example of the Russian winner of the women's pole vault Svetlana Feofanova, and declined to attempt anything higher.
"I hurt my back jumping in Helsinki recently and pulled the same muscle again on my jump at 2.35m, that's why I did not continue even though there was more in me," explained the gangling 2.04-metre African record holder.
Aches and pains seem to be an everyday feature of Freitag's jumping career, which has seen him become the first person to win individual world titles at youth, junior and senior level.
In June 2002, Freitag had to have his left ankle anatomically reconstructed after suffering torn ligaments and stress fractures on both sides of the limb.
The cause of the problem was his over-enthusiastic attitude in the gym during the early part of the year.
"I started training really hard. I went into the gym and got pretty muscular but, gradually, everything that could break started breaking."
Disaster struck at a meeting in ill-fated Helsinki and he lost the rest of last summer.
"It was raining and I just completely tore everything. After that, you're going to be tougher than all the other competitors and be able to handle whatever they throw to you. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
He also suffered from stiffness during Monday's competition.
"I did not have a good start at all. We had a really tough qualifying competition and my legs were kind of numb. Then I began to slowly find my rhythm and it all came together for me."
Freitag is now hoping his back and legs recover in time for the World Athletics Final in Monaco next month, where he will again take on many of the men he defeated on Monday.
Sweden's Stefan Holm, the reigning world indoor champion, got over 2.32m on his second attempt for the silver medal.
Holm's clearance was a huge effort, with plenty of daylight between his body and the bar, which would have certainly caused Freitag a few worries if he had been able to replicate it at a higher height.
Canada's Mark Boswell, the World Championships silver medallist four years ago a few weeks after Freitag was shouting his mouth off in Poland, got the bronze medal after also clearing 2.32m.
Boswell had to settle for third place on this occasion because of more failures than Holm during the competition.
Despite Freitag's delight at his victory, a sobering afterthought on the competition was that the South African's winning height was the lowest since the inaugural World Championships 20 years ago.