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By Sudipto Ganguly
TOKYO (Reuters) -American Katie Nageotte needed a third and final attempt to clear her opening height but overcame the nervous start to win the Olympic women's pole vault gold medal on Thursday.
The 30-year-old arrived in Tokyo in red-hot form with two world-leading marks of 4.95 metres and 4.93, but she struggled to get over 4.50 to register her opening mark in the final.
"It was the worst warm-up I have had in a long time and I did an ugly first few jumps," she said.
"It took me a few heights to get into it, but I was just fighting and I finally found a smooth jump. It came together."
Nageotte's clearance of 4.90 at the second attempt was enough to secure victory, however, as Anzhelika Sidorova and Britain's Holly Bradshaw finished on 4.85.
World champion Sidorova, representing the Russian Olympic Committee, cleared her first four vaults at the first attempt to take the silver ahead of Bradshaw.
The pressure of competing in the Olympic final also showed on the other vaulters as the field was cut to four after the second round with the bar at 4.70. All four made it past the 4.80 mark too.
Greek Katerina Stefanidi, the gold medallist from Rio, was the first to drop out of medal contention when she failed to clear 4.85.
A teary-eyed Nageotte returned to the field after climbing into the stands to celebrate with members of her team, attempting to set a new personal best at 5.01.
She gave up after her first failed attempt, however, wrapping herself in her country's flag before taking a full lap of the track with the other medallists.
"It hasn't even begun to sink in yet. This is the biggest dream I have ever had for myself. And here I am living the dream," she said.
"This is about as good as I could feel. We've all been through so much with COVID and everything, I'm really grateful."
It was redemption for Bradshaw, who finished sixth in the 2012 London Games and fifth five years ago in Rio.
She also came fourth at the 2019 world championships in Doha but made amends for her previous near misses to claim Britain's first Olympic medal in women's pole vault.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Hugh Lawson/Ed Osmond/Ken Ferris)