LONDON — A year ago, Darya Klishina couldn’t find a teammate. This year, she couldn’t find a flag.
It’s been quite a journey from last year’s Olympics to this year’s world championships for Russia’s top long-jumper — a journey that ended Friday with her holding a silver medal and celebrating it with the people who helped her get here.
“She hopped over the barrier and said, ‘I don’t have a flag, but I have a coach,'” said Loren Seagrave, the coach who’s been along for the entire emotional ride. “That’s when she gave me a big hug.”
Klishina is one of 19 from her country who are officially competing as neutral athletes because of the doping scandal that has engulfed her country. It means no flag, no Russian uniform, no national anthem.
No matter. She jumped 7.00 meters to take the silver and come an oh-so-close two centimeters from American winner Brittney Reese. Reese’s U.S. teammate, Tianna Bartoletta, took the bronze.
Unlike last year, when Klishina competed as the lone Russian track and field athlete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, she’s enjoyed support from both her teammates and from the stands.
“I just saw and heard a lot of people, trying to scream my name — with a Russian accent and different people,” Klishina said. “It was really nice. They know where I’m from, because I’m not a beginner.”
Not by a long shot.
Her ordeal began last year when track officials barred the entire Russian team from the Olympics, but admitted Klishina because she trained in the United States and had not been subject to the compromised anti-doping system in her own country.
That trip to Rio came with its fair share of grief. In her home country, some branded her a traitor for going to the Olympics while everyone else stayed home. Once on the ground in Brazil, her routine was shaken by a last-minute appeal of her case. In the wee hours the night before she was set to compete, she was cleared again.
She was in no shape to be out there, though, and she finished ninth.
“If you travel together to competitions, it’s a different atmosphere, it’s a different feel,” she said. “I think the Olympic experience just made me stronger, mentally.”
Klishina didn’t have the only heartfelt story to come out of the long jump on Day 8 of worlds.
Reese dedicated her win to her grandfather, who recently passed away.
“He’s the reason I’m in track and field. He’s reason I’m in sports, period,” Reese said.
After the long jump was over, the American steeplechasers pulled quite a surprise. Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs turned in a stunning 1-2 finish — the first two medals for the American women in the event at world championships.
“This is better than I could ever have imagined,” said Coburn, who captured Olympic bronze in Brazil.
The two certainties on a wild night were these: Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands (200 meters) and Pawel Fajdek of Poland (hammer throw), each of whom are getting used to this sort of thing. Schippers defended her world title and Fajdek won it for the third straight time.
And yet, it was hurdler Dawn Harper-Nelson out there doing cartwheels. The 2008 Olympic champion simply couldn’t contain herself after advancing to the 100-meter hurdles final, where she’ll be joined by three other Americans. That’s four of the eight lanes to be occupied by the country that swept the event at last year’s Olympics.
“We’re going to be bleeding red, white and blue when we line up,” Harper-Nelson said. “It’s going to maybe be a different kind of race.”
World-record holder Kendra Harrison certainly ran a different sort of race, crashing into the first hurdle and grazing the top of several more to earn the last spot into the final. She missed making the Olympic team last year, only to set the world record a few days later.
“I have a hiccup and bounce back,” Harrison said.
The decathlon kicked off without a retired Ashton Eaton, who’s won every world championship or Olympic title since 2011. Kevin Mayer of France leads by 57 points over Kai Kazmirek of Germany halfway through the 10-event competition that finishes Saturday. American Trey Hardee, the 2009 and ’11 world champion, sits in fifth place.
Second place felt pretty good for Klishina; it was the third silver medal for those branded “Authorized Neutral Athlete” along with those won by Valeriy Pronkin (hammer throw) and Sergey Shubenkov (110 hurdles).
The 26-year-old Klishina was a calmer, cooler jumper Friday than she was last year. She hadn’t hit 7 meters in an outdoor meet in six years.
“It was the right time, at a world championships, to jump this,” she said.
With nothing to parade around the track, Klishina kept the celebration simple and straightforward.
“I was really sad when girls were running with American flags and I couldn’t take the Russian flag and couldn’t celebrate with them,” she said. “Maybe I’ll win the next one.”
More AP track coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/London2017