London Spy

Russian high jumper loses vest, competes in a T-shirt and wins gold anyway

London Spy

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Russia's Ivan Ukhov competes in the men's high jump final at the athletics event during the London 2012 Olympic …

Moments before his crucial fifth jump of Tuesday night's men's Olympic high jump final, Ivan Ukhovwas in a state of panic.

The shaggy-haired Russian had removed his uniform top after his previous attempt and now he couldn't find it.

Shirtless and frantic, Ukhov rifled through his gym bag, turned a sweatshirt inside out and checked under the bench he was sitting on to no avail. At the suggestion of a meet official, he then donned a blue T-shirt that was sitting on the bench, slapped on a spare bib number and trotted out to the track to attempt to clear 2.33 metres.

Remarkably enough, Ukhov succeeded on his first try. The 2010 world indoor champion eventually found his missing singlet and cleared two more bars without a miss, securing his first gold medal with a leap of 2.38 meters (7 feet, 8 inches).

Misplacing his uniform top in the midst of a competition is just one example that shows why Ukhov may be the London Games' most eccentric gold medalist.

He wears his hair shoulder length in a sport where most athletes keep their hair cropped close to avoid grazing the bar. He typically opts not to wear traditional high jump spikes when he jumps because he says he doesn't do as well in them. And then there's the episode he was most famous for prior to winning gold on Tuesday: the time he allegedly competed while drunk.

At a 2008 meet in Switzerland, a wobbly Ukhov staggered up to the bar and collapsed onto the mat, unable to even attempt a jump. Cell phone video surfaced and became an internet sensation, leading track and field's governing body to issue Ukhov a "strong warning" about the incident.

Ukhov has put that incident behind him and emerged as one of the world's most successful high jumpers, a meteoric rise considering he didn't even begin dabbling in the sport until age 17.

Upon quitting basketball after nine years in the sport as a result of a falling out with his coach, Ukhov moved on to discus. He told BBC earlier this year that he discovered his talent for high jumping only after seeing some guys doing it in practice and asking them if he could give it a try for fun.

"They said yes," Ukhov told BBC. "I jumped so high I beat them all."

Ukhov repeated that feat Tuesday, this time against a world-class field. The co-favourites entering the day were Russia's 2008 Olympic champion Andrey Silnov and American world champion Jesse Williams, but both surprisingly crashed out at 2.29 metres, well below their season bests of 2.37 and 2.36 respectively.

That opened the door for Ukhov and he stepped through it, ratty blue T-shirt and all.

Jeff Eisenberg, Yahoo! Sports

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