Home crowd propels da Silva to gold

Brazil's Thiago Braz da Silva leaving his fists pumped on the way down from clearing one of his attempts in the pole vault final. He upset Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie with the backing of the partisan Rio crowd.
Brazil's Thiago Braz da Silva leaving his fists pumped on the way down from clearing one of his attempts in the pole vault final. He upset Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie with the backing of the partisan Rio crowd.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIO DE JANEIRO • Brazilian Thiago Braz da Silva edged out France's world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie to win the Olympic pole vault in dramatic fashion. His feat gave the host country its first athletics and second gold medal overall.

Against a backdrop of raucous fan cheering, da Silva skipped an attempt at 5.98m and pushed hot favourite Lavillenie to 6.03m, which the Frenchman failed twice and the Brazilian passed at the second attempt to set an Olympic record.

The upset gold was assured after Lavillenie, who was continually booed by the passionate Rio crowd, failed to clear 6.08m.

"The gold? Incredible. My first time over six metres," da Silva told reporters. "My home town wanted me to win."

The Olympic Stadium crowd had been quiet early on Monday night, which began with a rain delay, but quickly got behind their 22-year-old countryman, cheering him wildly and booing Lavillenie as he prepared for his final jump.

The Frenchman gave a thumbs down signal but the crowd continued, changing to cheers when he failed his 6.08m attempt.

"For the Olympics, it is not a good image," Lavillenie said of the booing. "Better to stay at home in front of your television than come and whistle. At least then we'd have people in the stadium who want to watch sport."

The 29-year-old, who holds the world record at 6.16m, added: "It really disturbed me. I felt the nastiness of the public and we do a sport where you never see that."

He later apologised for his comments, saying he had made the comparison straight after the end of the competition when he was upset.

Brazilian supporters, who have brought football's raucous crowd enthusiasm to a number of Olympic events, have confounded some athletes used to more sedate crowds.

Even da Silva, who only took up the sport at 14, was surprised by the exuberance.

"The crowd were cheering me too much," he said. "I had to fix my mind on my technique, forget the people."

Outside the quarter-full stadium, shouts echoed through the darkened streets of Rio's Jardim Botanico district upon da Silva's win.

It was his highest jump ever by 10cm, earning the host country their second gold of the first Olympics to be held in South America.

It was also the first athletics gold achieved by a Brazilian man since Joaquim Cruz won the men's 800m at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Sam Kendricks took bronze for the United States after clearing 5.85m, with Czech Jan Kudlicka and Piotr Lisek of Poland tied for fourth (5.75m).

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Home crowd propels da Silva to gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe