This piece was first published in Spanish in Cinco8.
Photo: Oscar Muñoz Badilla / Panamsports

In track and field, the most important competitions are the Olympics, World Championship and the IAAF Diamond League, an annual calendar of athletic challenges, most of which take place in Europe. The latter also has interesting cash prices for their best qualified athletes, so being invited to the Diamond League means peeking through a window of success. 

Yulimar Rojas can now showcase, in her wide range of triumphs, a few victories in this prestigious competition.

In 2016, she gave Venezuela the first world championship in an indoor track and field competition, when she got 1st place in the triple jump at Portland, with her 14.69 mts. leap. In the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, that same year, she got a silver medal, also in triple jump. In August 2017, in the World Championship in Athletics in London, she surpassed by two centimeters Colombian Olympic champion Caterine Ibargüen’s mark and, with a 14.91 mt. jump, Yulimar became the first Venezuelan athlete to win a gold medal in an outdoor world championship. 

Yulimar has been, for now, the most successful athlete in the history of Venezuelan track and field. And she’s only 23. 

12 Mts. Changed Her Life 

Yulimar was born in  Caracas, in October, 1995, but then she moved to Puerto La Cruz where she started her transformation to become the elite athlete she’s now. Because she’s so tall (1.92 mts,) she started playing volleyball and basketball, until coach Jesús “Tuqueque” Velásquez, who she thinks of as a father, caught that track and field was her thing. 

Yulimar Rojas can now showcase, in her wide range of triumphs, a few victories in this prestigious competition.

Velásquez made her try out for several disciplines. In 2011, she got first place at the high jump in South-American Championship in Athletics, in Medellín and, in 2014, she got first place in four regional events. 

One day, mostly because she was playing around, Yulimar went to a triple jump practice in Puerto La Cruz with a group of guys that Velásquez coached and, on her first try, without any previous training, she jumped 12 mts. She was the high jump national champion, but coach Tuqueque saw that she had to get special training for this discipline. 

They contacted Cuban trainer Iván Pedroso, who has his training center in Spain, and he took over the training in December 2015. Yulimar was studying for her Education degree, but she quit to become a full-time athlete. 

With the Brazil Olympics approaching, the Venezuelan Track and Field Federation was counting on a medal, no matter the color. Yulimar started a tight race with Colombian Caterine Ibargüen, an experienced athlete, double world champion, who eventually took the gold. But Yulimar came home, where she was celebrated in many ways, with a silver medal that no other track and field athlete had gotten before. The only medal Venezuelan track and field had gotten was bronze, and another triple jumper called Asnoldo Devonish had won it in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. 

Careful With Those Ankles 

2018 wasn’t a great year for Yulimar Rojas, with the thin ankles. An injury in her right ankle kept her out of the tracks for 11 months. 

But when she got back, it was with a bang. 

In August 2019, she won gold in the PanAm Games in Lima, with a 15.11 mts jump, knocking down Catherine Ibargüen’s previous record (14.92 mts.) Then came her performances in the Diamond League: she got second place in Karlsruhe (14.45 mts.) and in Madrid (14.92 mts.); in Dusseldorf (14.45 mts.) she got first place.

She also competed in meeting class, different from tournaments because they do less trials and it takes around two hours, so they can be fitted on TV. During the event in Huelva, Spain, Yulimar performed a jump of 15.06 mts. and with that, became the first Venezuelan to secure a spot for the Tokyo Olympics that will start in July 2020. 

In the Streak 

As part of her good performance streak in the Diamond League, she was second in Lausanne, Switzerland (14.82 mts), she won in Monaco ( 14.98 mts.) and in the Paris meeting she stayed in the top, with 15.05 mts. 

On September 6th, in a in a minor Diamond League’s competition that was celebrated to inaugurate the most recent track and field center in Andujar, Spain, Yulimar achieved a 15.41 mark. Her position had already been secured with a 15.03 mts jump on her third try, but after two null jumps she painted those three arcs that border perfection, best mark so far in 2019. 

What Yulimar did in Andujar is the second best mark in the history of women’s triple jump. 

What Yulimar did in Andujar is the second best mark in the history of women’s triple jump. 

The first still belongs to Ukrainian Inessa Kravets in the 1995 World Championship, at 15.50 mts., but that record sits at a murky spot under doping claims, since the athlete had been sanctioned three months earlier for using drugs to enhance her performance. 

Everything about Yulimar seems to flow naturally. She doesn’t hide her gayness, she doesn’t deny the help she got from the chavista government and, in Spain, she carefully looks after her unusual amount of followers. She takes all the selfies they want. She says she learned to respect the sport from Jesús Velásquez, and from Iván Pedroso the value of hard work and perseverance. 

Yulimar Rojas has been triple jumping for only five years. She’s 23, and in this discipline most athletes reach their full potential around their 30s. She might surpass Kravets’s world record soon. While she takes care of her ankles and keeps getting better, Yulimar just exudes charisma: she kisses Prince Albert of Monaco on the cheek, changes hair color and style often, and in her training center, in Spanish Guadalajara, she keeps working for that world record she’s missing… and that gold in Japan. 

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