lunes, 23 de julio de 2012

The Amazing Ana Peleteiro & the Big Example of a small Athletic Club

"Comparing long and triple jump, which of those athletic disciplines
 do you like more and why?
Triple jump, because it is a very difficult event and I like challenges." (1)

Ana Peleteiro and her coach Abelardo Moure

In spite of being held in front of an almost empty stadium, the 14th World Junior championships in Barcelona were one of the most spectacular and emotive track and field contests we can remember, with abundance of talent and impressive marks. Only two athletes, Angelica Bengtsson and Jacko Gill, got to defend their titles from Moncton, increasing their resume to five gold medals for the Swede and three for the New Zealander in youth and junior major competitions. For both the shot putter and pole vaulter it was their last chance to shine among the teens, before getting ready to destroy the existing senior records. On the other hand, Antonique Strachan from the Bahamas showed why she was awarded the distinction of best athlete of the last two editions of the Carifta Games, completing a sensational double victory at the 100m and 200m events with very fast clockings of 11.20 and 22.52. Strachan however did not stand as the only sprint standout in Barcelona as Adam Gemili, Ashley Spencer and Luguelín Santos all recorded world-class times. Ethiopia won its eternal duel against Kenya in the longest races, thanks to Muktar Edris, Yigrem Demelash and Buze Diriba. Nevertheless, Kenya showed its usual mastery of the steeplechase event, especially in the men’s category, where Conseslus Kipruto broke the tape in 8:06.10. All Edris, Demelash and Diriba may at last claim a valid succession for long standing nation leaders Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Bekele and Meseret Defar, in the same way Kipruto might soon overcome Kenyan steeplechase classics Ezekiel Kemboi, Brimin Kipruto and Paul Kipsiele Koech. London-bound Faith Kipyegon, added up the junior crown to the youth one she achieved last year in Lille at the 1500m distance, yet both Kenyan and Ethiopian men were well beaten at the middle distance events by Burundian Nijel Amos and Qatari Hamza Driouch, who made a clear statement for the upcoming Olympic Games.
The championships also proved once more the excellent Cuban work at grassroots levels. The Caribbean country won no less than three gold medals at their pet events: triple jump (Pedro Pichardo), heptathlon (Yorgelis Rodríguez) and 110m hurdles (Yordan Luis O’Farrill). Especially intriguing was the latter, looking like with his competitive ways and optical lenses a Dayron Robles’ clone. Traditional powerhouses fared well in the contest but also new nations are starting to challenge their supremacy. A good example is race walking where, with the likes of Eider Arévalo and Sandra Arenas, Colombia is displacing Mexico at area level and they dare to face even the invincible members of the Saransk school. The world junior champs showed the increasing globalisation of the sport with no less than 43 different flags being present at the podium. For instance, the European continent, throwing events dominator for many decades, did not get any gold medal in the male category. Egyptian-born and Qatari representative Ashraf Amgad Elseify achieved a massive world record in the hammer and Fredrick Dacres and Keshorn Walcott confirmed the Caribbean is going to be in the future much more than a sprint nation. Finally, the 14th World junior championships in Barcelona were a successful one for the host nation Spain, which put an end to a long drought with an outstanding gold medal at the female triple jump, thanks to 16-year-old Ana Peleteiro, who improved her previous best by more than half-a-metre.                     

Ana Peleteiro became the first Spanish World Junior champion in 12 years
Photo: David Ramos/ Getty Images Europe
       Spain is well-known as a country which excels in sports, a powerhouse in football, basket ball, tennis or cycling. However this is not the case of athletics, which standards have dramatically fallen in recent years. In the last Summer World championship in Daegu, the country only achieved two finalists: one man (Manuel Olmedo) and one woman (Natalia Rodríguez), which is its weakest tally since the contest is being held. Sadly Spain is more known recently in track and field because of its doping scandals than for its good results. Furthermore, while football, basket ball and even other sports like climbing and karate are increasingly growing in popularity among youngsters, official statistics talk about 40.000 affiliations to track and field clubs dropped last year. (2) A main reason is our sport has failed to produce a role model like Rafael Nadal, Pau Gasol, Fernando Alonso and Real Madrid and Barcelona football team members. Lack of popular interest and as consequence lack of commercial sponsorship brought to the rather unpleasant situation of a country which did not broadcast the 2011 World Cross Country, despite being the host nation, and later in the year was also one of the few European countries where Daegu World Championships could not be watched on TV. Yet the Spanish Athletic Federation’s poor management in the last couple of years, neglecting grassroots sport development, has its share of responsibility for this track and field decay inside the country. The same outstanding feat of the victory of Ana Peleteiro in front of an empty stadium in Montjuich is much more the result of an individual effort of the founders of the Agrupación Atlética Barbanza, rather than the consequence of the support of national sportive institutions. A triumph besides which has not had at all the coverage it deserved in the specialized media, nor in Spanish TV, where the sensational performance of Peleteiro was announced only in the end of a very long sports block, after such interesting news as the Real Sociedad football team’s new uniform.  

Ana Peleteiro showing her great power and technique

The future triple jump star was born the 2nd December 1995 in Ribeira, a fishing village in Galice. There she was fostered by the Peleteiro-Brión family. Thanks to them she has grown the excellent person and sportswoman she is today. Ana's parents soon realized about her daughter's talent for sport  so they entered her in a ballet school. Yet, as she confesses now, her character did not fit with this activity so she joined instead as young as a 6-year-old girl the athletic school launched by renowned hurdler María José Martínez Patiño in her own village. Patiño remembers her as an especially energetic and determined child, who however did not have a penchant for hurdling. Long distance runner Carlos Adán replaced Patiño as head coach in the school in 2003. Under Adan’s influence Ana got to win the silver medal at the Galician Cross Championship although it was evident her pupil natural conditions of speed and explosiveness were more appropriate for sprinting and jumping. Anyway, Carlos Adán's training method was never a systematic one but instead he just introduced his young trainees to the practise of track and field twice a week through simple games he got from a book. (3) Adan’s acquaintances refer that at the time he did not cease talking about a young girl so fast he could never catch while playing “steal the bacon” and who was able to jump in standing position one metre further than the rest. (4) Nevertheless, Carlos Adán eventually found a more stable job and left coaching so Ana Peleteiro moved to the nearby A Pobra do Caramiñal in 2007 to enrol the Barbanza Athletic Club.
José Moure, a track and field fanatic, had launched in 1983 the Agrupación Atlética Barbanza, with the little help of his friends. (5) In the beginning Moure was up to foster also activities as canoeing and motocross but it was track and field the most demanded sport. Moure got an athletic track with four lanes on, six in the homestretch. Then it was built a gym, some artificial hills… José Moure, still the club manager, is currently looking for the creation of an indoor facility for the numerous rainy days when training outside is unbearable. The Barbanza Association has always been a familiar affair. José’s three sons are involved in the project. Abelardo is nowadays the head coach, while his sister is a secretary and his brother undertakes administrative tasks. Funding is obtained through athletes’ fees and regional government subsidies, though the latter allowances are missed lately due to the serious economical crisis in Spain, so they have been unable to buy equipment for the athletes in the last years. Interestingly, no member of the Moure family earns a salary from the athletic club: José lives from his revenues as an interior designer, while Abelardo is selling canoes. (5)

Gracia Rey, in the steps of club mate Ana Peleteiro

     On the other hand, both the foremost athlete of the club, Ana Peleteiro, and Abelardo Moure are critical when talking about the role the Galician and Spanish Athletic Federation play in their development. The coach states every time there are fewer competitions, less facilities and tracks in Galice and they are receiving little funding from the regional Federation in spite of being one of the athletic clubs with the best results in the region. (6) The athlete denounces Agrupación Barbanza did not get any support from Madrid until she started to obtain victories at national and international level and even now she has to endure 11-hour exhausting trips by train on her own to join training camps in Madrid, instead of being assured a flight ticket in company of her coach which would be the most advisable way of travelling for a still 16-year old teen. (7) Instead of financing sport at grassroots levels, the Spanish Athletic Federation still keeps being faithful to its formula of “fishing” the track and field hopefuls once they have flourished in their local athletic clubs, convincing them to join the high performances centres located in Madrid, Barcelona or Soria.    
       Nevertheless, Asociación Atlética Barbanza makes up for not counting with the awesome facilities of a High Performance Centre with commitment and an enjoyable atmosphere which has reaped stunning fruits, starting with the number of members, currently around 120 athletes, most of them coming from the same A Pobra do Caramiñal and nearby locations. A figure not negligible at all considering it is a village of just 9000 inhabitants. One of the secrets of success is to instil involvement with the club through spending some hours a week helping younger trainees in their track and field apprenticeship. Thus Ana Peleteiro is at the same time teacher and pupil as also was the case of Abelardo Moure when he was a promising javelin thrower. Lardo, still only 33, has proved an outstanding mentor, which last year finished a close second on occasion of the national Federation’s award for Coach Revelation of the Year, though he consider himself much more than a coach: a friend, a big brother, with a privileged relationship and chemistry with his trainees. Coming from one of the most technical athletic events as the javelin is, Abelardo Moure is a perfectionist able to make become his protégées true experts in the technical performance of their respective events. Ana describes him accurately as a very committed coach, a great communicator with deep knowledge about the technique of every athletic specialty. (1) Besides he guides his charges wisely through their training sessions avoiding overcharge: they just grow as athletes as the same time their body does. As an example, the group of Ana Peleteiro works out four times a week in single sessions and the triple jump world champion never lift weights, as the national coaches in the sector were amazed of discover in a training camp in Madrid. Some may believe the sensational performances of Peleteiro are just the result of her outstanding natural talent, yet Lidia Parada, another Barbanzan athlete, also qualified for the World Junior championship in the javelin discipline. Besides, two other girls, born in 1997, Iria Forján (8) and Gracia Rey, prove the good hand Lardo has guiding athletes in jumping events. Iria knows already what is to be a national champion, a feat she achieved in long jump in the cadet age category last year with an excellent 5.72m mark, taking maximum advantage of her stunning speed, and Gracia came close to it last winter, grabbing the silver medal in the triple jump event. Why not considering the possibility of this small club having as much as three world class jumpers in some year’s time?

Iria Forján is also a national champion jumper

     Notwithstanding, no Abelardo Moure’s pupil can match for the moment the gigantic progression of Ana Peleteiro since she started practising seriously triple jump only three years ago. Immediately the Ribeira-born athlete fell in love with this discipline, which she considers the hardest in track and field, really an injury prone one, but at the same time full of beauty, because of its combination of very different skills as flexibility, strength and coordination. (7) Talent, willingness and dedication quickly paid off, allowing Ana a huge improvement in the specialty in a very short time, breaking even his coach’s more “realistic” expectations. In all it was nearly two metres in two years, from 12.33m in 2010 to 14.17m, her winning jump in Barcelona. During the 2010 indoor season Ana Peleteiro triumphed for the first time in a national championship, in the cadet age category, in both long and triple jump. However her take off really began the following year, her first as a youth athlete. In May, on occasion of the national championship by regions in Valladolid, Peleteiro became the first Spanish youth girl ever over 13 metres (13.09m exactly). That moment remains one of Ana's best memories. Then she went to Lille for her first major international competition with high expectations. At the World Championships she accomplished a bronze medal, the only one for Spain in the contest and the 6th her country had achieved since the IAAF set the World Youths in 1999, in a hardly fought and full of nerves final, where only 2cm separated the bronze medal and the 7th place. In spite of her medal Peleteiro was half-happy with the result because she was ready for a PB she could not eventually achieve, but weather conditions and a slight injury in her right leg slowed her a bit. Nevertheless the Barbanza Athletic Club jumper obtained her revenge at the closing meeting of the season, the European Youth Olympic Festival in Trabzon, where she won in a new national record (13.17), beating the gold medallist in Lille, Sokhna Galle, in the process. Understandably, she was chosen by the Spanish Athletic Federation best junior athlete of the year, when still belonging to the youth category.

Ana Peleteiro made another impressive quality leap in 2012. In late January she launched her season in the best possible way, landing 13.04m beyond the board to break simultaneously both national youth and junior indoor records at the Galician Championships. Besides she improved her long jump PB in the same meeting to 5.87m. A remarkable distance considering injury setbacks during the precedent year had made her take the decision of focusing her limited time exclusively in the triple jump and forget about specific long jump workouts. That auspicious beginning was confirmed during the summer, when the Pobrense athlete flew to 13.50m the 13th May in Cangas for a massive personal jump, also a record in the superior junior category, thus overcoming Ruth Ndoumbe, in the same way she had erased before Vanessa Peñalver and Maitane Azpeitia’s teen marks. Peleteiro added 3cm more in Avilés in June but the best was yet to come.

The Galician jumper came to Barcelona World Junior Championships as one of the three serious prospects of medal for the host country, along with Didac Salas, gold medallist in the pole vault event at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, and new race walk sensation Alvaro Martín. However, while Salas and Martín fell a little short of expectations, the triple jumper delivered a terrific performance. After leading the contestants in the qualifying round with 13.63, another national record, Ana Peleteiro assumed the pressure, mastered the tricky changing wind and grew to another dimension to set three new records, among emotive sobs, in each one of her first three attempts: 13.64, 13.96 and 14.17m, the last one against 1 metre of head wind, to clinch the gold medal ahead of Lithuanian Dovida Dzindzalitaité, who also reached 14.17, and previous yearly leader and favourite Liuba Zaldívar from Cuba. Afterwards, Peleteiro explained for her huge improvement it was decisive her change from 15 to 17 strides in her run approach. Interestingly, Ana’s winning mark was more than one metre better than her best effort just one year before in Lille and only inferior to Carlota Castrejana’s 14.64m and Conchi Paredes’ 14.30 in the Spanish all-time lists and she is still 16-year-old! Her mark is also a European youth record and makes her become the fourth performer ever in her age category after Chinese Qiuyan Huang and Ruiping Reng and Cuban Daylenis Alcántara. Besides, although achieved after the deadline of the qualifying period, Ana Peleteiro’s 14.17 is inside the B standard for London and a better mark than the one achieved for Patricia Sarrapio last year, which won her selection for the Olympic Games. Ana Peleteiro is only the third Spanish woman gold medallist at the World Junior championship. Her predecessors were the awesome race walker Mari Cruz Díaz, who won the title in 1988 two years after having become European senior champion, and Concha Montaner at the long jump in 2000. (9)

Nevertheless, unlike Montaner who, unable to cope with the pressure of an important competition, has have a disappointing senior career, failing to meet the expectations she had created with her gold medal in Santiago de Chile, Ana Peleteiro always delivers her best when it matters most: big challenges are a booster for her. Once a 1.50m-diminutive girl, Ana never feared to face rivals much taller and some years older than her.  This year she has grown up to a slender 1.71 athlete and her body development is starting to make a difference too, in that highly demanding discipline. Sky is the limit for this talented Spaniard who has raised all kind of praises in her country, after her groundbreaking performance, starting with current national record holder Carlota Castrejana who published in her twitter page: “besides her pure jumping talent, triple jump technique seems innate to her.” (9) Ramón Cid, Spanish triple jump record holder for many years and now coach responsible in the sector in the Spanish team argues “she is very good technically, hit the board in perfect stride, she is much faster now and always very competitive.” (5) Finally, her coach Abelardo Moure, a man who knows well Ana Peleteiro, concludes: “She has an ideal body shape for the triple jump event, with a very high centre of gravity and besides she is very flexible and adjusts very well when hitting the board, which allows her to jump 40cm more than her competitors.” (5)
An outgoing, sensible and vey mature for her age girl, when you hear Ana Peleteiro talking in interviews she seems to have what it takes to maintain a long term athletic career. Out of the track she is an excellent student, whose best friends are also Barbanza Athletic Club members as Iria Forján and Gracia Rey and who has the chance of chatting on the web with her idol Teddy Tamgho. “He really looks like me, the way he acts, the way he competes. When he is in a contest he is arrogant but at the same time he is humble… To perform well he needs the spectators support, he needs to motivate himself thinking ‘I am the best; nobody is going to beat me here; there is no need to worry.’ It works for him and I try to do the same. Besides I often chat with him over the Internet, I ask him for advice and Teddy helps me out with suggestions about my triple jump technique.” (7) Ana Peleteiro also is starting to be known as someone who motivates herself setting before the beginning of every track and field campaign very ambitious targets, which for the moment she has always reached. For 2012 she wanted to jump 14m and get a medal at the World Juniors in Barcelona. For the future she is not content dreaming with competing at the Olympic Games but expects to climb one day to the top of an Olympic or World Championship podium. She also aims for the old world record of Inessa Kravets (15.50m) which dates back from the time of the female triple jump pioneers.

viernes, 13 de julio de 2012

Nellum, Lalova, a Long Journey to the Olympics

Bryshon Nellum, back in his high school days in Long Beach Poly
        He had been one of the most sport-talented high schoolers of his generation, achieving uncountable victories for his team Long Beach Poly. Yet unfortunately, after leaving a restaurant, he was shot by gangsters from a car, in a sad Halloween evening of 2009. Seriously wounded in both legs, doctors argued he would never be able to recover his past fitness. However, with patience and hard work, and especially because of the support of his mother and close friends, he slowly learned to walk again, then to run, then returned to the track to face the best quarter milers of the country. No one had bet a dollar for him, yet the 24th June 2012, the day the national championships were held in Oregon, he ran with unusual determination, getting to finish the race in the top-3, thus achieving his Olympic dream… No, this is not the account of an action movie but the true amazing story of Bryshon Nellum, still on the making.

             Nellum was born the 1st May 1989 in Los Angeles. In his teen days in Long Beach Polytechnic High School he practised both athletics and football. He was an excellent dive receiver but eventually focused in his track vocation. Nellum became the first Californian athlete in achieving the 200m-400m double two years in a row (2006 and 2007) at the State Championships. In the latter season, he also led his team to two relay victories. No athlete had accomplished 4 gold medals in that contest in 91 years. (1) With impressive times for an 18-year-old of 20.43 at the 200m and 45.38 at the 400m, Bryshon was deservedly named 2007 Gatorade National Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year. The Long Beach Poly High quarter miler also shone internationally, capturing bronze in 2005 at the World Youth Champs in Marrakech, a noteworthy collective gold as a member of the US 4x400 relay in Beijing one year later in junior category, and finally the Pan American U-19 400m individual title in his stellar season of 2007.
            Bryshon Nellum was expected to battle for a spot in the Olympic team for Beijing but fate decided otherwise. Early in the season he had to redshirt his high school senior campaign due to injury; then came that moment in which Bryshon feared for his life, after exiting a party. (2) The Long Beach athlete was never involved in a gang and still today does not understand why he was attacked. Looking to the eyes of his aggressors during the trial, Nellum said to try to find an answer. Anyway, that incident put in jeopardy his whole track and field career, though Bryshon Nellum firstly could only think in being able of getting up from his hospital bed without help: “I was like a baby. I had to learn how to crawl before I learned how to walk before I learned how to run. I had a lot of rough times. It was hard coming back. I just kept my faith in God and took things day by day. I stayed consistent and I stayed dedicated.” (3)  Perseverance and the company of mates and mother kept him going through those moments of pain and anguish. (4) Determined to run again, Nellum spent about five hours a day in the weight room, at track practice and in multiple physical therapy sessions. In his return to running activity he even sometimes had to practise on one leg. Enrolled by South California University he reappeared in 2010 but even then he was slowed by three operations in order to remove bullet fragments.  

Bryshon Nellum makes the USA Olympic team after finishing third in the 400m final at the trials held in Eugene, OR
Photo: Paul Buck/EPA

Nevertheless, as Bryshon Nellum says, what does not kill you makes you stronger. This 2012 the USC sprinter seemed to be at last free of any health issue and as a result he improved in April his long standing PB, running the lap distance in a world-class 45.18 in Walnut. After triumphing at the Pacific-12 and nearly matching his recent PB (45.20), Nellum was expected to deliver valuable points for the Trojans at the NCAA but he failed to make the final in a contest with the deepest field in many years. However, Bryshon anchored South California to second place in the 4x400m relay, after an epic battle against the individual champion Tony McQuay of Florida. This race meant a huge boost of confidence for Nellum as also was the feat of progressing through heats and semi-finals at the national championships, side by side with Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt. (3)
The USA national trials were some kind of redemption for Merritt, after his 21-month doping ban, and a confirmation of the great talent of Tony McQuay, who finished runner-up in a new personal best. On the other hand, it meant a new disappointment for former number one in the event, Jeremy Wariner, who seems to be near the end of his athletic career. Unlike Wariner, the championships signalled an optimistic come back to the spotlight for Tyson Gay, after years of struggling with injuries. (5) Yet even the brilliant return of the Osaka triple gold medallist can be overshadowed if we think about all that Bryshon Nellum had to overcome in his long journey to London Olympic Games. Josh Mance, who precisely finished 4th at the trials just eight hundredths of a second after the excellent 44.80 of Nellum, knew well all that his mate in USC had been through: “Of everybody at the Olympic Trials, he has the best story, the most inspirational. He should be the headliner of this whole meet. No track athlete gets shot with a shotgun and has three bullets go through both legs and is still out there running 44.8s. He is a blessing.” (3) Amazingly, Bryshon Nellum was not the only man who made the US team for London after experiencing the bitter experience of being shot. George Kitchens was the revelation of the long jump event, improving all the way to 8.21 to book his ticket. A long time ago, when he was 12 he received a bullet in his chest and was left for dead, along with her sister and friend Lyndon Fubler. (6) While Kitchens and his friend recovered, her sister was paralysed. Without a doubt she will be a source of motivation in the performance of her Olympian brother in London.    


Ivet Lalova had never been shot for members of a gang but her extraordinary return to top form, after six long years of struggling and seven operations on her right leg, can be related to the inspirational cases of Bryshon Nellum and George Kitchens. Lalova, born the 18th May 1984 in Sofia, was predestined to become the new Bulgarian sprinter prodigy, following the illustrious tradition of Ivanka Valkova, Lilyana Panayotova, Sofka Popova, Nadezhda Georgieva, Aneliya Nuneva and Petya Pendareva. The young sprinter, whose parents Miroslav Lalov and Liliya Petrunova had been both renowned athletes inside the country, was soon put under the guidance of Konstantin Milanov, a long jumper back in the 60s. Milanov, who would remain by her side for 15 years, coached wisely Ivet Lalova, steadily developing her into one of the best sprinters in the world.  Ivet became national champion for the first time in 2000, yet she finished just out of the medals at the 200m event the following season in Debrecen at the World Youth Championships and did not make the final at the 2002 World Juniors in Kingston. However she brilliantly accomplished a double sprint victory in Tampere the next season, on occasion of the European Junior Championships. It was followed up for a sensational first senior campaign in the 2004 Olympic year.
Lalova showed her great potential in the winter, recording 22.87s in a sport hall, but missed the World Championships, due to a freaky accident, when she broke her left foot big toe, after kicking a chest in her bedroom. Reappeared in late May, she set a new PB in the 200m (22.58) but her progression was far more remarkable at the 100m event. She launched her summer campaign with already a personal record of 11.14. Then lowered her PB to 11.12 and 11.06, before running the distance in a groundbreaking 10.77!! the 19th June in Plovdiv, giving maximum points to Bulgaria at the First Division European Cup. Incidentally she left 0.40s behind Kim Gevaert, the woman who went on to conquer five single European titles in successive years. “Everything was perfect then,” confirmed Lalova. “The track was very fast, the wind was not so strong, and surprisingly even for me I got an excellent start. I was sure that I can run under eleven seconds, but to run so fast! It will take me time to realise what I have done.” (7) 

Ivet Lalova competing at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games

With her explosive performance, Lalova all together smashed the 10.85 Aneliya Nuneva’s national record which dated back from 1988, set the best mark in the world in six years, and most important of all she climbed all the way to the number 6th spot in the all-time lists (currently 10th), tied with Russian Irina Privalova. With the latter athlete she still shares the distinction of fastest white woman ever over the distance. Besides, Lalova’s 10.77 stands as the best mark ever for a 20-year-old, just comparable to the 10.88 World junior record of Marlies Goehr, back in 1977. The record also sparked some controversy: the reaction time was officially 0.117s but some outsiders argued it should have actually been a false start. Nevertheless with her solid performance at the Olympic Games two months later, Lalova proved her world-class mark was no fluke.
In her first major championship, the young Bulgarian standout said to come just to learn, without big ambitions. However she was unanimously favoured for a medal and her 4th place at the 100m final and her 5th at the 200m, although excellent, had to be bittersweet probably for the new sprinting sensation. With Kelli White, Torri Edwards and local girl Ekatheríni Thanou all involved in doping related issues, Marion Jones also out unable to recover her past form, Christine Arron coming to the Games with 31 years, Zhanna Block with 32, Gail Devers with 37 and Marlene Ottey with 44!!, the female sprints were up for a new order. (8) Out of the eight 100m eventual finalists in Athens, only Bahamian Debbie Ferguson had been in a major final. Yuliya Nestsiarenka, snatching more than half a second from her previous year’s PB was the shocking winner, though she remained consistent under 11sec in each one of her four races. After her, surprising the same, crossed the line 21 year-old Lauryn Williams, the NCAA champion, and 22-year-old Veronica Campbell. The Jamaican, a collegian in the USA too, scored a massive 22.05 PB to also clinch gold at the 200m, an event in which she had been unbeaten for four years, although her international experience was rather limited outside of Champs, Carifta and JUCO. A 19-year-old Allyson Felix was a well deserved silver medallist, in a new world junior record. Among such astounding newcomers, Ivet Lalova passed her first serious test with excellent grades. Only middle-distance legend Nikolina Shtereva in Montreal 1976 had achieved before for Bulgaria to qualify for the Olympic final in two different events. (9) Outside of her track prowess, Lalova’s remarkable beauty and belly button tattoo stood out as well, when she was chosen for “Miss Glamour” on the Olympic Games through Internet inquiries published in the German magazine “Stern.” (9)
Yuliya Nestsiarenka was unable to keep her momentum in the subsequent years yet we all know about the long impressive careers of Lauryn Williams, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Allyson Felix. Ivet Lalova also showed her determination to compete with the best in early 2005. First she triumphed at the 200m at the European indoors in Madrid, the last time this distance was staged at the contest. Then she won the Golden Spike in Prague in 11.03, ahead of one of the most promising runners of the moment, Sherone Simpson, whom she had beaten at the Olympic Games as well. Lalova had the talent to face those scintillating North American and Jamaican stars and we could have seen her snatching pieces of glory from them all over a decade. Nonetheless tragedy cut short soon every expectation. The 14th June at the Athens Grand Prix she collided while warming up with another runner with the fatal result she broke her femur. Ivet was operated with success the next morning by Doctor Pantellis Nikolau. A 38cm surgical nail was affixed in her damaged leg, where it would be kept for the next three years. Otherwise, Lalova always declined to take any legal action for the responsibility of the accident against neither the other runner nor the organisation, a decision which would earn her a fair play prize awarded by the IOC. Doctors said Lalova would never be able to practise sport elite anymore. However she refused to give up her athletic dream and started to prepare her come back as soon as she left hospital. 

Ivet celebrates after her victory at the 100m distance at the 2012 European Championships in Helsinki
Photo: Ian Walton/ Getty Images Europe

Almost two years afterwards, Lalova made a successful return to competition in Beograd, winning in style with 11.26, in an outing where the likes of Miki Barber and Chandra Sturrup had been entered. This race meant a lot for the moral of the athlete but this one was still far from full recovery. Up to six more times her leg would need surgery again. Lalova qualified for Osaka Worlds and Beijing Olympics but not at her best she did not make the final in any of those championships. Then in 2009 and 2010 she could not run faster during the season than 11.48 and 11.43 respectively. The dream seemed over.   
Notwithstanding, even if many believed she was on the verge of retirement, Ivet Lalova never thought about quitting and kept struggling every day instead to put an end to her tough years. In that crucial moment the athlete took a transcendental decision: she moved to Italy, along with boyfriend Simone Collio, to join reputed coach Roberto Bonomi. For the first time in many years, Ivet was not troubled for injuries in the 2011 campaign and the wise guidance of Bonomi made the rest. After an encouraging beginning with a victory at the Club Championships in Izmir in 11.08, Lalova won without opposition at the Bislett Games in Oslo with a slightly windy 11.01. It was the first Diamond League victory for a Bulgarian athlete and a clear symptom that the fastest white woman in history was back to her very best, a feeling she confirmed breaking for the second time in her career the 11sec barrier (10.96), at the Balkan Championships held in Sliven. Interestingly, during those 6 years Lalova was struggling to regain her past form, only one European athlete, Christine Arron, in her swan song year of 2005, had got to run a 100m race under 11 seconds. With the best hopes, Lalova went to the World Championships where she reached the 100m final, ending up 7th; then narrowly failed her target at the 200m, after having clocked 22.62 at the heats.
In the new year of 2012 Ivet Lalova keeps the same optimistic mood. Her first major victory, which she achieved at the recent European Championships in Helsinki, where she beat the foremost specialists in the continent Olesya Povh, Verena Sailer and Ezinne Okparaebo, can be read as a stunning triumph over adversity. Lalova stated the lowest moment of her career was when she had to watch the World Championships in Helsinki from her hospital bed. (10) Seven years afterwards she made at last the trip to Finland to proclaim she is in her best shape ever and ready for London Olympic Games.