By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Monday, August 15th, at the Olympic Stadium in Engenho de Dentro, Brazil’s Thiago Braz da Silva, came out of nowhere to claim the gold medal and set a new Olympic pole vault record in a thrilling contest that ended five minutes to midnight. In front of a hysterical hometown crowd, Da Silva defeated defending Olympic pole vault champion, France’s Renaud Lavillenie, to become the first Brazilian man to win an Olympic gold medal in Rio.
Monday night’s track and field competitions got off to a rocky start on Monday as heavy downpours caused the pole vault final to be temporarily suspended for seventy minutes due to the rain.
Da Silva himself had trouble early on. He failed his first attempt at 5.75m then struggled again before eventually clearing 5.93m. This was already a personal best for Da Silva, who had previously never cleared that height.
Defending champion and favorite to repeat, Lavillenie matched Da Silva at 5.93m, but then cleared 5.98m to break the Olympic record. But, that record would be short-lived.
Da Silva made a decision that will go down in history for Brazilian track and field fans. Rather than try to match Lavillenie at 5.98m, Da Silva decided to skip that height and improve the record by pushing the Frenchman to 6.03m, ten centimeters over Da Silva’s previous personal best.
Amazingly, on his final attempt, Da Silva cleared that height establishing a new Olympic record and sending the 40,000 fans at Olympic Stadium into mass hysteria.
After two failed efforts to match the 6.03, the world’s number one Lavillenie moved all his chips to the center of the table on a last-gasp vault at 6.08m. Boos rang throughout the stadium as Lavillenie prepared for his final jump, inciting the Frenchman to give the thumbs down sign to the crowd.
The boos soon turned to cheers as Lavillenie missed the attempt, sealing the incredible victory for the new hometown hero. “Incredible,” Da Silva exclaimed to reporters afterward, “My first time over six meters. My hometown wanted me to win.”
Lavillenie had to settle for silver with a best of 5.98m and American Sam Hendricks took bronze with a vault of 5.85m.