Yulimar Rojas — queen of the triple jump — sets her sights long

The owner of the world record, multiple indoor and outdoor World titles and an Olympic gold wants to breach 16m. She also has designs on extending her dominance across the horizontal jumps by capturing a triple jump-long jump double at a Major competition

The owner of the world record, multiple indoor and outdoor World titles and an Olympic gold wants to breach 16m. She also has designs on extending her dominance across the horizontal jumps by capturing a triple jump-long jump double at a Major competition

Yulimar Rojas at an athletics stadium is a spectacle to behold — and that is even before she takes flight. As she gets the crowd going at the start of her run-up, a striking 6’4” lean-muscled super athlete, the possibilities appear endless. Once she explodes off her hop and step, and gets airborne, she looks like something out of a kinetically drawn panel in a comic book.

As a fan of Wonder Woman and Batman, it’s a comparison the Venezuelan ‘Le reina del triple salto’ (or ‘Queen of the triple jump’) enjoys. “In this sense, I’m a bit like a child,” she said. “I love superheroes and I hope to be considered a superhero in my country and in the world.”

The first time Rojas felt like a superhero on the big stage was in Rio in 2016. Making her debut at the Olympics, she engaged in a strong battle with Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen before taking silver. “From that moment I knew I wanted to be a heroine to my land. It was a great duel. It was a fantastic night for me. It was a dream to have an Olympic medal on my chest — a day I will never forget. But it gave me a goal: to hear the Venezuelan national anthem in Tokyo.”

Goal realised

Rojas achieved that goal last year, breaking the Olympic record with her first jump in the final before shattering the world record with her last jump of 15.67m, crushing by 17 centimetres a 26-year-old record that had been held by Ukrainian Inessa Kravets. She also became the first woman to win Olympic gold for Venezuela, scripting a glorious chapter in the nation’s history.

Rojas has continued to dominate the triple jump, winning her third World Championships title in July in Oregon. She also has three indoor World crowns, the most recent of which, in March in Belgrade, saw her break the world record again, with a jump of 15.74m. She is unbeaten in the discipline at Major competitions since that silver in Rio six years ago.

Hers has been a remarkable tale of triumphing against the odds. In a country where the economy collapsed years ago, Rojas was born in a ‘ranchito’, a shanty house made of bricks with a broken zinc roof. “I come from humble beginnings. I belong to a large family, six siblings, my father, my mother… living on a little farm with a lot of uncertainties,” Rojas said.

“Thanks to this, I am a different Yulimar Rojas,” she told the Olympic Channel. “It has helped me become a better version of myself. The adversities helped me believe in myself and my abilities. Yulimar Rojas is brave, joyful and a committed person. And, above all, I’m a warrior.”

As a kid who tried volleyball and the high jump before settling on the horizontal jumps, she changed her life by having the audacity to send a message to Cuban long jump legend Ivan Pedroso on Facebook, seeking help. Pedroso, who has four outdoor and five indoor world titles and an Olympic gold medal to his name, agreed immediately.

By that time, he was a resident of Spain, which opened the door for Rojas to polish her talents in that country, away from the political and economic trouble that plague Venezuela. Within four months of beginning to train with Pedroso, she won gold at the World Indoor Championships in Portland, in 2016.

It inspired her to work on her technical shortcomings and to invest “absolute trust” in her new coach. “That’s when I knew that I could achieve great things, that I have talent in these legs,” she said. “From then we started, bit by bit, to increase my muscular strength because, while I am very tall, I am slim, and I find it quite difficult to tone and increase muscle on my legs.”

Sources of motivation

Having already conquered so many peaks, two primary ambitions (and a secondary one) occupy Rojas’ mind. She wants to break the almost mystical 16m barrier and surpass her coach’s tally of Major titles (with three outdoor and three indoor World crowns and one Olympic gold, she trails Pedroso by one outdoor and two indoor titles). The 26-year-old would also like to achieve the triple jump-long jump double at a Major event, ideally the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“I don’t like to set limits for myself as an athlete, I have a very high ceiling, which is what my mind and heart want,” she said. “I was born to jump that distance [16m]. This is what motivates me the most. Nothing is impossible. I know that I am close. I feel that I have it in my legs, but I need to adjust some details… to be able to reach that prodigious and important barrier.”

“Doing better than the legend that is my coach, Ivan Pedroso” is another big “motivation” — it’s an endeavour the coach himself is very happy contributing to. “He knows I can get there. He knows I will do it,” Rojas said. The coach is also on board for a serious attempt at the long jump. Given that it was the discipline he dominated, Pedroso knows its technical nuances, as well as the possible effect it could have on Rojas’ triple jump.

“So for next year [2022], we plan to train a little more [in the long jump] and let the results speak for themselves,” Rojas said last year, serving notice of her desire to extend her dominance across the horizontal jumps. The long jump was a discipline she pursued as a junior, so it isn’t unfamiliar. “I’m an athlete of challenges. If it was up to me, I’d compete in the two events.”

Rojas’ long jump ambition suffered misfortune at the Oregon Worlds. Her qualifying leap — 6.93m, which would have taken silver at the 2019 Worlds — was adjudged by World Athletics to have been done in shoes not approved for the long jump. Rojas jumped in triple jump shoes, which are allowed a maximum thickness of 25mm; the limit for long jump shoes is 20mm, which invalidated the effort. An injury prevented her from competing again for a valid qualifying mark.

A triple jump-long jump double, if she manages it, will add to her growing reputation as one of the defining athletes of the era. Having inspired a generation of Venezuelan athletes, revived mainstream interest in the triple jump and emerged as a strong voice of the LGBTQ community, Rojas has been a trailblazer.

“Venezuela isn’t a country that can win lots of medals, such as the US. But for the few that we do have, the feeling we hold dear in our hearts,” she said.

“My orientation has always been important to me and to my career. I have always tried to fight for the ideologies and rights of women and the LGBT community,” Rojas said in an interview with El Pais. “It is also a leap for love and life to be respected, the desire to love and to be loved is respected, and human rights to be valued every day. There will be a time when the relationship between people of the same sex will be more respected here in my country.”

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