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.

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