martes, 2 de agosto de 2011

Some Yargelis Savigne's rivals

Simona La Mantia: goodbye to the bad times, welcome back dreams
Photo: La Presse
             Athletics fans had the chance of watching the Beijing Olympics triple jump final, arguably the best competition ever held in the history of the event. (1) No less than six athletes broke the 15 metres barrier on that occasion: Tatyana Lebedeva, Hrisopiyi Devetzi, Yargelis Savigne, Olga Rypakova, Marija Sestak and Françoise Mbango-Etone, who achieved to defend successfully her crown, setting on the process a stunning new Olympic record of 15.39 metres.  However, the post-Olympic year means a new beginning: some athletes retire, others take a brief rest from tough workouts and competition and others bestow themselves to the lovable task of maternity.
            How things had changed just one year later at Berlin World Championships! Osaka winner Yargelis Savigne returned to gold, after the great dissapointment of Beijing, where she had finished out of the medals.  Nevertheless, she did not really find the same kind of opposition: she did not even need to reach 15 metres.  Compatriot Mabel Gay, former world junior and youth champion, in her come of age year, produced a remarkable 14.61 jump, which gained her the silver medal, ahead the always reliable Anna Pyatykh, who was three centimetres short of the Cuban. They were the lower results for the minor medals in a major global competition since 2001. Gay would only have had the chance of doing the first three jumps and finished tenth at the precedent year Olympic final, with that medal winning effort of 14.61; while Pyatykh had just been eight at the same contest, jumping 15 centimetres more than in Berlin. (2) Furthermore, only three athletes have reached the 15 metres quality barrier for a total of five jumps since 2009: Yargelis Savigne (2), Olga Rypakova (2) and Nadezhda Alekhina (1).

Paraskevi Papahristou, the U-23 double European champion
Photo: Pawel Szatkowski/Agencja Gazeta
            It is worth to be noted two of the three medallists in Beijing were not present and the other, Tatyana Lebedeva, was not at her 100%, after a recent injury setback. All of them Mbango, Devetzi and Lebedeva, were always ready to deliver their best at the big challenges for many years and, after their sudden vacancy, is not easy to find new athletes with their talent and charisma. The great six times World champion Russian ace has been out due to recurring physical troubles and maternity duties for the last two seasons, but she still hopes to end her career in style in London.  Similar feelings have the now naturalised French Mbango-Etone, who will try to produce another upsetting come back for the next Olympics as she did in Beijing, but she is now four years older.  Finally, Hrisopiyi Devetzi has decided to retire.  The Greek is one of the few triple jump great veterans in doing so.  Lebedeva, Mbango and also Yamilé Aldama, Trecia Smith or Baya Rahouli still hope to be in contention for the next majors. Yet, the most difficult matches right now for Savigne must be found elsewhere.  
            Arguably the two most consistent runners currently in the circuit, along with Savigne, are Ukraine representative Olha Saladuha and Italian-born Simona La Mantia, who were also absents in Berlin for very different reasons, but stroke gold and silver respectively at Barcelona European champs.  Saladuha, had obtained a praiseworthy fourth place at the prior edition of the championships, held in Goteborg, besides a place of finalist in both Osaka and Beijing, before taking a year off to give birth to her daughter Diana.  Then she was back stronger than ever, not allowing too much time of relaxing or “being lazy”, taking the illustrative example of Lebedeva as mother-athlete. (3)  In May of 2010 she was already jumping 14.76 and felt she could be able of fighting for the top spots in Barcelona.  There she achieved a jump of five more centimetres to get her first big victory, easier than expected. During the season she was also the victor at the European Team Super League and runner-up at the Continental Cup in Split, only beaten because of Olga Rypakova’s out of reach performance.  This season Saladuha is in equally outstanding form: she has improved her all time PB to 14.98, defended her European team title in Stockholm and has jumped beyond 14.70 in every one of her six summer outings, getting the goal of beating Savigne in the last one, also in the Swedish capital. Now she will try to do the same in Daegu.  It is being an excellent year indeed for Ukrainian triple jumping, where two other athletes have achieved the Daegu A standard (Yastrebova and Tsyhotzka) and two others are over the B required norm (Mamyeyeva and Knyazheva). 
            Simona La Mantia is one of the athletes, as Bulgarian Ivet Lalova, you feel glad they can be back after a long fight against severe injuries.  This Palermo lad, who feel proud of representing the whole Italy, because she is the daughter of a father from the South and a mother from the North. (4)  A child prodigy, Simona beat every age national record, achieving international success with silver and gold medals at successive under-23 Area championships in 2003 and 2005, where she leaped no less than 14.43 into a strong headwind. She flied during that season to a stunning for her age 14.69 and was pointed as the future star of the triple jump.  Then accidents, surgery and a sort of problems cut short her career. Now she is back as she says a new athlete and a new person.  After the big confidence boost of her silver medal in Barcelona she is training hard again in search of her Olympic dream.  At last European indoors she showed what she is capable of, with two winner jumps of 14.60.  It is worth of note her best two performances of the last two seasons have been where it mattered most.  Do you know what I mean?     
Olha Saladuha, a serious contender for World and Olympic gold
Photo: Andy Lyons/ Getty Images
             As I said before, two other athletes, apart from Savigne, have jumped further than 15 metres during the last couple of seasons, but they have not always kept the same level of consistency.  Kazakh Olga Rypakova seems to like even years and dislike the odds. After her excellent 15.11 massive Asian record at Beijing Olympics, she was not quite awesome the following year, where she did not qualify for Berlin final.  In 2010 she performed flawlessly all over the season, relegating Savigne to number 2 after beating her at both World Indoors and Continental Cup, in both occasions well beyond the 15 metres.  However, this year she has gone further than 14.25 only once…  according to her curriculum, she should be a fearsome contender for (2012) London Olympics.   
            Still more irregular is Nadezhda Bazhenova Alekhina, who surprised everybody, leaping to a massive 15.14 at the 2009 Russian national championships to finish up, one month afterwards, one metre and a half behind (13.60 at the qualifiers) at Berlin worlds.  Similar story happened at the Europeans the following year, but there she still could manage a fourth place.  This year she has not reached 14 metres so far. At the Russian trials for Barcelona, the most consistent Russian triple jumper besides Lebedeva, Anna Pyatykh, did not qualify for the first time in many years for a major championship.  Without their standouts, the national team was well below their standards.  Alsu Murtazina and Natalya Kutyakova failed to make any impact, while curiously an ex-Russian now representing Belgium, Svetlana Bolshakova, won the bronze medal. Pyatykh is in poor form this year and so is Anastasiya Taranova-Potapova, who, after a promising victory at 2009 Torino European indoors, has not done much.  Another returning athlete from maternity, Oleksya Bufalova-Zabara is again in the mix, but she has not replicated outdoors her indoor campaign, where she finished second in Paris, behind La Mantia.  Such are the things the powerhouse of triple jumping will only have two representatives in Daegu: Murtazina  again, who, more experienced now is expected to deliver quite better than in Barcelona and Anna Kuropatkina.  For future challenges the hope is Yana Borodina, 2009 World Youth gold medallist and brand new European junior champion as well.       
Katerina Ibarguën, six national records in one  outstanding season
       Cuban athletes are settled collectively in a much more privileged position this year than Russians.  Five triple jumpers of this country are inside the top-20 summer seasonal lists and we could watch at a simple regional meeting in La Habana five women again beyond 14.30 metres.  Yargelis Savigne is the undisputed queen of the specialty and Mabel Gay seems to have secured her berth for Daegu, after achieving 14.65.  Yet there is a hard fight for the two spots left.  Experienced Yusmay Bicet and Yarianna Martínez have been overcome this year by 2008 World Junior gold and silver medallists Daylenis Alcántara (14.56) and Yosleivis Rivalta (14.61).  Watch out especially for the former who was already jumping 14.21 at sixteen years of age and has one youth and two junior global titles in her curriculum.  
       Also next to Caribbean shores lives the great revelation of this campaign, Colombian Catherine Ibargüen.  This athlete has always been practicing both horizontal and vertical jumps but used to be more known as a High jump specialist.  She is the national record holder with a respectable 1.93 since 2005 and has been present in quite a number of international competitions in this event.  Notwithstanding, perhaps because she was not progressing further, has decided to concentrate all her efforts lately at the triple jump event, with more than remarkable results: six national records in just some months, improving from 14.27 from last year to  14.83, a new Area best, which put her in medal contention for Daegu.  She has also won the South American Championships, ahead of well-known Keila Costa of Brazil. 

Olga Rypakova, the World indoor champion and Asian record holder
                In the Old Continent, besides Russian and Ukrainian specialists, a rich triple jump tradition seems to have flourished around Balkan Mountains.  Countries like Serbia, Slovenia, Greece, Bulgaria or Romania all count with one or more astounding specialists in the event.  Marija Sestak and Biljana Topic are not anymore in their prime but Snezana Rodic has steadily become one of the most creditable performers in the circuit, representing her country Slovenia.  Adelina Gavrila could still produce a noteworthy fifth place in Barcelona.  Yet Cristina Bujin and Carmen Toma are ready to take over in Romania once she decides to leave sport elite.  Ex Olympic champion Tereza Marinova had already retired but Petia Dacheva and Andriana Banova have a bright future ahead of them.  Not really far away, Slovak Dana Veldakova is one of the regulars at major championships finals.
            Nevertheless, the Balkan nation bound to glory in a near future seems to be Greece. Hrisopiyi Devetzi is not anymore making the highlights at the Athletics stadiums but there are no less than three triple jumpers in the country hoping to be a worth heir of her legacy.  Athanasia Perra, the most veteran of the trio, reached 14.60 in 2009 and 2010, but she is not at her best this year.  On the other hand, the two younger athletes Paraskevi Papahristou and Niki Paneta are starting to set a tradition of domestic rivalry, in order to become the number one athlete in the country, which might develop in celebrated duels at international level. Indeed, last week end Papahristou won the national championship by the narrowest of margins: 14.56 to 14.55.  Paneta, now 25, after some disappointing years, is starting to fulfil the hopes she had created in her teen years. Her national rival can go even further. Since her first international success, the bronze medal at the 2008 World Junior Championships, after Cubans Alcántara and Rivalta, her reputation has not ceased to grow. Already jumping 14.47 at 19 years of age she beat renowned rivals up to two more years of age, as Kaire Leibak, Liliya Kulik, Cristina Bujin or Alsu Murtazina, to get to crown herself as European Under-23 champion in Kaunas-2009.  Despite a disappointing 2010, were she cut short her summer season, arguing lack of motivation, she is back this year where she used to be.  She has defended her U-23 title, competing in a world apart, against such accomplished rivals as Carmen Toma and Polish Anna Jagaciak.  Paraskevi has also improved to 14.72, just seven centimetres short of the age record which holds Anna Pyatykh since 2003.  And she is ready for more.  Hopefully she will not lose her motivation again, because she is talented enough to become Olympic Champion one day. 
       Two other athletes are worth of mention in Europe.  German Katja Demut has jumped a massive national record this season of 14.57 but she has not delivered yet in any major competition what is expected for the quality of her marks.  Patricia Mamona, a student at Clemson University in the United States, and a double NCAA champion is the last one in making a fantastical breakthrough this summer season, after her huge Portuguese record of 14.42, at the recent national championships.  
            Olga Rypakova is the most celebrated triple jumper star in Asia but it is also remarkable in her neighbour country, Uzbekistan, three athletes have achieved the standards for Daegu.  Among them is Valeriya Kanatova, a bronze medallist at 2009 World Youth Championships and already an Asian silver winner in senior category this year.  Further in the East, Chinese Xie Limei seems to be back at her best level, after too many below par performances in the last couple of seasons.  Her young mate Li Yanmei has also made the A standard for Daegu.
         As we can see, triple jump competition is being fierce all around the world and many young outsiders are ready for the battle.  Will it be possible again for Savigne to win without jumping over 15 metres?    

Daylenis Alcántara, in company of boxer Robeisy Ramírez, receives the distinction of best  Cuban junior
 sportwoman of the year 2010.
Photo: Calixto N. Llanes

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