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Venezuelan triple jumper Yulimar Rojas earns 4th straight world title on final attempt

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Yulimar Rojas had an animated pep talk with herself before her final jump and with her rhythm uncharacteristically off.

More than anything, it was a reminder: She was Yulimar Rojas.

That sank in and the Venezuelan triple jumper instantly turned into the version of herself who wins everything in sight.

Rojas jumped 15.08 meters (49 feet, 5 3/4 inches) on her sixth and final attempt Friday night to rally for her fourth straight title at world championships. Add in her Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games and that makes her 5 for 5 in major meets since 2017.

“I didn’t try to find words but rather think of all those times where I did really well,” Rojas said through a translator of her final jump. “It was very difficult. The fact that I won the competition with my last attempt makes it very special and memorable.”

Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk finished runner-up to earn the first medal for Ukraine in Budapest. Bekh-Romanchuk was in the lead most of the night courtesy of a big opening jump of 15 meters (49-2 1/2). Leyanis Perez Hernandez of Cuba took bronze.

“I knew if someone could change the result at the last minute it would be Yulimar Rojas,” Perez Hernandez said. “I was expecting my position to change, but even with this medal I am not satisfied with my performance. ... I have some bitter feelings, but I am proud that I can take a medal home and put it around my mother’s neck."

For Bekh-Romanchuk, the silver medal represented something much bigger than herself.

“It’s for my country,” she said.

Bekh-Romanchuk has been living and training in Germany since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, one of more than a million Ukrainians that have settled there since the war began.

“The last months for me have been really difficult because I feel some depression, because I’m always alone: just stadium and apartment,” Bekh-Romanchuk explained.

This medal, she said, fulfilled “all the really hard work I did.”

“Maybe people saw my calm, focused and confident face, but believe me, nobody knows what I felt deep inside,” Bekh-Romanchuk added. “You cannot imagine how many people helped me to step on the podium tonight.”

The 27-year-old Rojas is as close to automatic these days as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was in his heyday.

She just needed to remember that.

For quite a while, this contest looked wide open with Rojas, the world record holder, not able to figure out her proper sequence of steps. She kept talking and talking to herself, but nothing she uttered seemed to click.

Until that last attempt.

With the jump clock on the side winding down, Rojas flew down the runway, took a hop, step and then took off. Rojas waited for the measurement and when her name moved to the top of the leaderboard, tapped her heart in appreciation as the crowd clapped.

“I didn’t care about the distance. The only thing I had in mind was to win the gold,” Rojas said. “I’m going to appear on the front pages everywhere. But more important, I’m going to be in the hearts of all the Venezuelan people.”

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports