Ibargüen: The queen of the triple jump in this region
Guardian Sports Editor
Published: Apr 17, 2014
The IAAF ‘Day in the Life’ Team will continue to bring feature stories of Caribbean athletes and athletics in this region of the world. Today’s focus is on Colombian female triple jumper, Caterine Ibargüen.
MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico – World Champion Caterine Ibargüen is having the best period of her athletic career, and she owes most of the credit to Cuban coach, Ubaldo Duany. It was Duany who orchestrated a switch to the lateral jumps from the high jump after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Ibargüen, the triple national record holder for Colombia in the jumps, went on to score a world-leading 14.85 meters (m) – 48’ 8-3/4” in Moscow, winning the title over Russian Ekaterina Koneva (14.81m - 48’ 7-1/4”) and Olha Saladuha from the Ukraine (14.65m - 48’ 0-3/4”).
Ibargüen’s real coming out party was in 2011, though. That year, she equaled or improved the Colombian triple jump national record seven times and the South American regional mark four times. She improved her personal best to 14.99m (49’ 2-1/4”) just before the Daegu World Championships that year. In Daegu, she leapt to a bronze medal, with a best jump of 14.84m (48’ 8-1/4”).
A year later at the London Olympics, she had a best jump of 14.80m (48’ 6-3/4”) to win the silver medal, and, last season, she finished off as a professional with the gold in Moscow, scoring Colombia’s first ever gold medal at the world championships.
Ibargüen lives and trains in Puerto Rico, where she stays under Duany’s watchful eyes; she also assists with the coaching duties at her alma mater, Universidad Metropolitana (UMET). She earned a degree in nursing from UMET in 2012.
“I see myself as more of a role model and someone the kids could learn from,” said 30-year-old Ibargüen through an interpretor. “I’m really happy to play that role and help these youngsters. These young athletes are so talented and have so much potential. I’m just looking to help them as best as I can.
“When I wear the colors of the Metropolitan University, I am as proud as I am to represent Colombia. I’m honored to play a different role as a part of the coaching staff. I’m excited to be here, and I look forward to some good performances by our athletes.”
Besides her coach who has catapulted her to the top of the world in the women’s triple jump, Ibargüen said that she revers former athletes such as her countrywoman Ximena Restrepo, who won Colombia’s first Olympic medal in athletics, and Cuban world record holder in the men’s high jump, Javier Sotomayor.
Restropo won a bronze medal in the women’s 400m at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and, as the only man to ever soar eight feet, Sotomayor is widely regarded as the best high jumper in history.
“I look up to Ximena Restropo because of what she has accomplished, and I used to be a high jumper, as well, so that’s where the respect comes from for Javier Sotomayor,” she said. “Also, my coach is a very special person in my career. He used to be an international world-class long jumper, and he is an inspiration to me on and off the field.”
Ibargüen has been knocking on the door of a 15 meter leap for the past three years. Her Colombian national records in the long and high jumps are 6.73m (22’ 1”) and 1.93m (6’ 4”) respectively. She’s also a good heptathlete, but for now, the focus is on the triple jump, of which she is the current best in the world. Ibargüen hopes to continue her steady progression, building up to the first ever Olympics in South America, the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I intend to use the 2014 and 2015 seasons as building blocks for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. It’s not in Colombia, but competing in Brazil will still feel like home,” said Ibargüen. “An Olympic medal is an Olympic medal, no matter where the Olympics are held, but with the Olympics being in South America for the first time, it will have a big impact. It would certainly be very nice to win a medal for the continent,” she added.
Colombia is adjacent to Brazil, South America’s largest country. Ibargüen left Medellin, Colombia at 24 years to study and train at UMET, in Puerto Rico; she, soon after, began to experience tremendous success. She currently lives in Puerto Rico with her boyfriend, Colombian 110m hurdler, Alexander Ramos, who also trains under Duany at UMET.
“Medellin has a very good facility, and I still go back to train, once in a while, but, basically, I wanted a change,” she said. “Back in Medellin, I was a full-time athlete, but this was an opportunity to learn and have a degree and train at the same time. I wanted to try something different.
“I’m still indebted to my country, Colombia. I want to show as best of an image as possible of Colombia. The image of Colombia isn’t as good as it should be, for various reasons, and I think it is really up to the professional athletes, like myself, to change that perception and present a good image.”
Ibargüen hails from Apartadó, Antioquia, Colombia, but moved to Medellin, the capital of Antioquia, at a very young age. Early in her track career, she was a standout high jumper, dabbling in the long and triple, as well.
Ibargüen said that she was bent on quitting the sport after not qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but new coach Duany was instrumental in getting her career back on track. Duany saw that her body mass was more conducive for the lateral jumps, and implored her to make the change.
Ibargüen complied, and soon began to experience the desired results. She improved tremendously over a short period of time. Over the span of five months, in 2011 in particular, Ibargüen improved her personal best from 14.30m (46’ 11”) to 14.99m in the triple jump. With that mark, she is the 22nd best female triple jumper in the history of athletics.
Ibargüen capped off 2011 by winning a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico; for her efforts, she was named Colombia’s sportsperson of the year by national newspaper, ‘El Espectador’.
Ibargüen picked up in 2012 where she left off in 2011. She improved her long jump national record to 6.73m and turned in a huge leap of 14.95m (49’ 0-3/4”) in her first triple competition of the season.
Ibargüen ended her pre-Olympic campaign with two Diamond League wins, and then went on to win a historic silver for Colombia at the London Olympics, 20 years after Restrepo’s 400m bronze in Barcelona, the country’s first ever Olympic medal in athletics.
In 2013, Ibargüen picked up four Diamond League wins leading up to the Moscow World Championships. She is now aiming to become Colombia’s first ever Olympic gold medalist in athletics.
At UMET, Ibargüen is focused on two things – continuing her steady progression leading up to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and being a positive role model for the many young athletes under her wing, be they at UMET or in Colombia.
“Colombia is a football nation, and we are very proud of our football team, but back home, there are hundreds of kids practicing on the track every day,” said Ibargüen. “We are starting to see a bit of a change in the sports culture of Colombia. The children are starting to see that there are other sports that they can be successful in other than football, and I want to be an inspiration to them,” she added.
Ibargüen also gives credit to coach Regla Sandrino, with whom she started training in the early 2000s.
“Regla is like a mother to me. If I have come this far, it is because she taught me to fight until the end,” said Ibargüen. “I now have another father, Ubaldo Duany. He is always there, not only as a coach, but also as a friend, father, and psychologist. They are special to me and have positively contributed to my development as a person and as an athlete.”
In her spare time, Ibargüen said that she loves to dance, among other things, but because of her commitment to UMET and the sport of athletics, she rarely has the time to focus on anything other than track and field.
Be that as it may, she has certainly danced her way into the hearts of Colombians and her many fans worldwide.