Forget Usain Bolt and Sally Pearson. It was a heavily-tattooed female high jumper with wacky eye makeup, a drug suspension and a criminal record who stole the show at the World Athletics Championship in London.
Inika McPherson, 30, attracted plenty of attention on social media for her extravagant Batman-style makeup, mohawk hairstyle and more than 30 tattoos.
She may have raised the bar in the fashion stakes, but she failed to clear 1.92m at the London Championships, finishing ninth.
However, she still wound up being the highest-finishing USA team member in the event.
Defending world champion Maria Lasitskene, a Russian who competed as a “neutral” because of her country’s drug ban, won the event by clearing 2.03 metres. Ukrainian Yuliia Levchenko cleared 2.01 metres for second place, with Kamila Licwinko of Poland was third with 1.99 metres.
Despite the disappointing result, McPherson remained positive. She wrote online after the result that she was “living out my London Dreams”, and promised: “I’ll be back.”
“Mad respect to the crowd,” she posted on Instagram. “Amazing energy.”
McPherson has overcome incredible adversity to rank among the best high jumpers in the world – particularly since she is only 160cm, and therefore one of history’s most successful short high jumpers.
McPherson is reportedly the only woman of her height to ever clear 1.96m, which is her personal best.
On Twitter she calls herself the “High Jump Queen”.
McPherson grew up in a poor, single-parent household in Texas. Her father was imprisoned for most of her childhood.
In a documentary released earlier this year, she said she “fell in love with” high jumping in fourth grade, despite the fact that the sport was not popular in the town.
“We didn’t have many people in town who knew anything about high jump or how to do it, so I went online.”
McPherson said she hit “rock bottom” in 2008 after being kicked out of the University of California Cal Track program.
She became a taxi driver and started using drugs. While intoxicated she got into a fight that resulted in a 30-day prison sentence.
After her release, McPherson tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a blood marker for cocaine, at the 2014 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She accepted a 21-month doping ban, returning to the sport last year.
“When I read that I had tested positive, I felt like I was dreaming. I felt like it was not real,” she said in the documentary.
Despite these setbacks, she still managed to qualify for last year’s Rio Olympics, finishing 10th with a jump of 1.93 metres.