Tamberi and Wojciechowski make long awaited returns to the top of the podium

Gianmarco Tamberi
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Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi cleared 2.32m to win the high jump title at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships

Nearly three years after he last stood on the rostrum at a major international championships – as 2016 European high jump champion – Italy’s charismatic performer Gianmarco Tamberi returned to the top-most step here tonight at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships.

The winning height of 2.32m equalled his own European lead with silver being shared by Ukraine’s Andriy Protsenko and Konstadinos Baniotis, both of whom cleared a best of 2.26m with the same sequence of subsequent failures.

Being Tamberi, the competition was as much about emotion as height. And that emotion reached the heights.

It has been a long and winding road back for him after the serious ankle injury he sustained in Monaco five days after winning that European title in Amsterdam – and just minutes after he had set a national record of 2.39m that appeared to have set him up for a huge challenge at the Olympics.

Tonight, Gimbo – his longtime nickname - was properly back. Italian flag painted on his left shoulder, half of his beard shaven off between qualifying and final, as is his wont, ready for take off.

“It’s something amazing,” he said. ”It's something I was expecting for too long. I want to tell everyone what happened over the past two years and how serious my injury was. Yes, Gimbo is back and only I and a couple of people know what it means.

“This is only a start towards the Tokyo Olympics. I knew I felt great, it was only me who could lose this competition tonight. My conditions were amazing.

“I tried to focus for my season’s best but it was impossible. I wanted it so much. I told myself 'Don’t give up. Don't ruin this moment because it’s your moment.' I knew I could come back one day. Now I want to enjoy this moment.”

The 26-year-old has always had Bolt-like ability to connect with crowds. He demonstrated it once again here, inviting spectators to take up a rhythmic clap before setting off on his run towards the bar.

It worked a treat as he progressed with first-time clearances at 2.22m, 2.26m and 2.29m into a position of superiority as his rivals either fell away or struggled.

Germany’s European champion Mateusz Przybylko, who had been one of the top qualifiers on 2.28m the previous day, crashed out without managing his second height of 2.22m. And home jumper Chris Baker, the 2016 European bronze medallist, also foundered at 2.22m.

Only two men emerged to challenge the Italian at a higher level – Ukraine’s Andriy Protsenko, who has a 2014 outdoor personal best of 2.40m, and, less expectedly, 32-year-old Konstadinos Baniotis.

When the latter pair failed to match Tamberi’s clearance of 2.29m with their first attempts, and passed to 2.32m, victory appeared within reach for the Italian. But, especially given his fortunes in recent times, he was not about to take anything for granted – a further clearance was needed in order to feel comfortable.

His first attempt at 2.32m, noisily assisted at his bidding, was a narrow failure. Smacking his palm into his leg in frustration, he made his way up the banking to consult with his coach. For his second attempt, the hirsute master of ceremonies required silence. And this time the noise rose in recognition of his success.

Protsenko, meanwhile, was clearly struggling. After a first failure at 2.32 he limped back to his mark. After a second that was less close, signalling his exit, the limp was even more pronounced.

Victory was confirmed for Tamberi as Baniotis crashed through the bar on his second attempt at 2.32m.

The stage was his entirely – and he swiftly returned to earlier practice as he engaged the crowd in the ongoing quest for greater heights. After a first failure at 2.34m - which would have been the highest he had managed since that fateful day in Monaco - he sat for a while with the red tartan blanket – complete with sporran design – that he has also been employing as an impromptu kilt.

No go. For his final attempt, he upped the ante by getting the crowd on both sides of arena to stand and deliver on the clapping front.

Once again the bar was nudged down, and he lay momentarily with his hands on his face before rising on the landing pit and offering another of his trademark backflips.

This time, more tired than he perhaps realised, he required an extra push to get fully round. But energy returned as he darted off on a lap of honour that soon saw him removing his shirt in celebration. He put it back on again before draping the Italian flag around his shoulders.

Emotions in the next-door pole vault competition ran almost as high as Poland’s 29-year-old Pawel Wojciechowski, and unexpected world outdoor champion eight years ago, frustrated the efforts of his 26-year-old compatriot Piotr Lisek to successfully defend the title he won in Belgrade two years ago.

After five consecutive first-time clearances, culminating in 5.85m, the younger Pole looked in clear control of proceedings. Wojciechowski, meanwhile, had teetered on the brink of an early exit, only clearing 5.65m at the third attempt, before failing at 5.85m and passing to 5.90m.

The gamble paid off, however, as the height – an indoor personal best - was cleared with his last available effort. And Lisek could do no more – missing 5.90m twice before one final failure at 5.95m settled him for silver. Melker Svard Jacobsson of Sweden took bronze with 5.75m.

“It’s all been successful although it was a difficult start,” Wojciechowski said. “You need to be a fighter and believe until the end. Our coach was totally right in saying that you need to fight and have faith.

“After so many jumps it’s difficult to believe and train up for a 5.90m jump. I had so many thoughts in my head. I just do not know what to say. It’s unreal but true.”

Eight years after winning the world outdoor pole vault title in Daegu, Poland's Pawel Wojciechowski is back on top of the podium again!