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Freitag, 2003 world high jump champion, dies

Jacques Freitag at the 2003 World Championships (© Getty Images)
Jacques Freitag at the 2003 World Championships (© Getty Images)

South Africa’s Jacques Freitag, who won the world high jump title in 2003, has died at the age of 42.

According to news reports from South Africa, Freitag had been missing for two weeks before, tragically, his body was found with multiple gunshot wounds. Police are treating the case as murder.

A prodigious athlete, Freitag is one of a select group of athletes to have won individual world titles at the U18, U20 and senior level.

Born in Warrenton in 1982, Freitag grew up in Gauteng and was exposed to athletics at a young age as his mother Hendrina was a national high jump champion.

Freitag’s first big success came shortly after his 17th birthday when he struck gold at the 1999 World U18 Championships in Bydgoszcz.

He won 14 of his 15 competitions in 2000, culminating with victory at the World U20 Championships in Santiago de Chile. One year later, he set an African U20 record of 2.31m and competed at the World Championships in Edmonton.

In early 2002, still aged just 19, he set an African record of 2.37m. Success continued in 2003 as he struck gold at the World Championships in Paris with a clearance of 2.35m, becoming the first African man to win a world title in a field event. Just six days later, his compatriot Hestrie Cloete won the women’s event, marking a memorable high jump double for South Africa.

Freitag made his Olympic debut in 2004, though he missed out on making the final. He rebounded in 2005 and increased his African record to 2.38m – a record that still stands to this day.

He struggled both on and off the track in the latter years of his career, but he continued competing up until 2013.

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