Venezuela has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. Political and economic turmoil has swept through the nation, plunging it into crisis.
Yet over in London at the IAAF World Championships the South American country had something to celebrate on Monday night as Yulimar Rojas took global gold in the women’s triple jump.
What’s more, Venezuela sits a proud fifth in the medals table after four days of the championships – ahead of the host nation Great Britain – courtesy of Robeilys Peinado’s bronze in the women’s pole vault the previous evening.
It is an amazing performance by a country that had only ever witnessed one top-eight result in the history of the IAAF World Championships, an eighth place in the men’s 1500m final by Eduard Villanueva in 2011.
“I’m really happy for my country and this medal,” said Rojas. “It’s an historic medal for my country. It was a hard-fought medal so I’m really happy for the result.”
On the turmoil in Venezuela, she said: “In my country now it’s quite a serious situation. I feel motivated by this to show my country in good light. I’m going to continue working hard to get more medals for them and I hope more athletes from Venezuela can have in a similar opportunity to the one I have.”
Rojas won a thrilling, see-saw competition that saw her dethrone reigning champion Caterine Ibargüen of Colombia in a Latin American duel that saw them separated by just two centimetres.
The lead changed several times during a tense contest. Ibargüen, the Olympic champion, went into pole position in round one with a jump of 14.67m, which she improved to 14.69m in round two. But Rojas leapt into the lead in round two with 14.82m while, behind, Olga Rypakova, the London Olympic champion from 2012, jumped 14.77m to pass Ibargüen as she moved into the silver medal position.
Ibarguen, who was undefeated for 34 competitions from 2012-2016, bounced back straight away, though, as she leapt 14.89m in round three, which meant the reigning champion led at the halfway stage from Rojas and Rypakova.
By this stage the crowd in the London Stadium were really enjoying the head-to-head between the tall 33-year-old defending champion and the equally-statuesque, 21-year-old challenger wearing the blue and red colours of Venezuela on her body and green dye in her hair. Last year in Rio, Rojas finished runner-up behind Ibargüen but in 2017 she had already beaten her rival on the Diamond League circuit and led the world rankings going into the championships.
Given this it was no huge surprise to see Rojas charge back into the lead in round five with 14.91m – just 2cm better than Ibargüen’s leading jump – and this penultimate round mark would be enough to win. The Venezuelan still had to sweat it out, though, as Ibargüen had one final attempt in round six to re-take the lead and, urging the crowd to support her, she gave it a great effort but her 14.88m fell a few centimetres short.
“It was a hard competition,” said Ibargüen. “With the last jump all I was thinking about was beating myself more than the 14.91m. But I’m happy with the work I’ve done here. I lost by only two centimetres but it doesn’t bother me a lot. It’s a really cool thing for two athletes from Latin America to be on the podium.”
Given her age, Ibargüen was asked if she plans to carry on to the next World Championships and Olympics. “As long as I enjoy the sport I will continue,” she smiled.
Rojas, though, is hungry to win more titles and is 12 years younger than Ibargüen. “I consider myself to be quite a learner in this sport as I’m still quite young,” said Rojas, who now plans to dye her hair again to pink or purple to mark her victory. “I have a lot of work to do to improve my technique and physical capability. I’d like to reach 15 metres soon but I won the gold medal and hope to get more in the future.”
Rojas is not going to let the problems in Venezuela stop her returning there to visit her family soon either. “I spend most of my time in Spain training with my coach,” she said. “But now I’ll go back to my home to visit family.
“Of course the situation in my country does affect me. I don’t like to see the fighting and how my town is suffering. But I do have hope that Venezuela can overcome it and get back to being the wonderful country that it is. Countries are like athletes – they have good and bad times.”
In the men’s triple jump, reigning world champion Christian Taylor had no problem in qualifying for the final. Needing 17.00m to progress automatically, the American leapt out to 17.15m with his first jump. His fellow countryman Chris Bernard leapt 17.20m, while Cuban Cristian Napoles was the only other athlete to break the 17-metre mark, with 17.06m.
The top 12 qualified, with Britain’s Nathan Fox missing out following 16.49 for 19th place
Source: Jason Henderson| AW