Saturday 17 February 2018
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In Depth

Rypakova Once Again Ready To Challenge For Global Titles

Olympic triple jump champion Olga Rypakova may have turned 30 just a few days ago, but she says there are still lots of things left to accomplish.

Winning her first outdoor world title and successfully defending her Olympic title are among those.

The Kazakh athlete returned to competition earlier in 2014, having missed 2013 to give birth to her second child, Kirill. She jumped right in at the deep end, making her seasonal debut at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham in late August, and surprised herself by leaping 14.37m to finish second, beaten only by world champion CaterineIbarguen.

“In my situation, it was difficult to guess how far I’d jump,” she told Kazakh news site “I was hoping to jump up to 14 metres, but everything turned out well and I was even more pleased with the result.”

Her short 2014 campaign reached a climax at the Asian Games in Inchon, where she successfully defended her title with a jump of 14.32m.

Rypakova was back to her medal-winning ways.

From long to triple, via combined events

Despite being an Olympic and former world indoor champion, Rypakova is still a relative newcomer to the triple jump.

Daughter of former 7800 decathlete Sergey Alekseyev, Rypakova started out by doing the long jump, but then switched to combined events while still a teenager and took the heptathlon silver medal at the 2002 IAAF World Junior Championships.

But after winning the national indoor long jump and pentathlon titles at the age of 19 during the 2004 indoor season, she discovered that she was pregnant. Athletics – in particular the Athens Olympics – was no longer the priority while she took a break to give birth to her daughter Anastasia, who was born in September that year.

Little more than eight months later, Rypakova was back on the runway and set a long jump OB of 6.60m. A relatively low-key 2005 season was followed by a busy 2006 campaign in which she won the Asian indoor pentathlon title with an Asian indoor record of 4582, as well as the Asian Games heptathlon crown, having set a PB of 6113 earlier in the year.

But despite her success, Rypakova felt she no longer had the energy to compete in combined events. “We had made great progress in jumping and sprinting events, but my throwing results were very slow to improve,” she said. “It was time to say goodbye to combined events.”

At the 2007 national championships, having won the long jump with 6.57m, Rypakova was asked by her coaches to compete in the triple jump, simply to gain a few extra points in the team competition. Despite the rain and cold conditions, Rypakova jumped 14.05m off a nine-stride approach.

Quite by accident, she had discovered her new event.

Three weeks later a similar scenario played out at the Asian Championships. After winning the long jump title, Rypakova discovered her name on the start-list for the triple jump. She initially thought it was a mistake, but the team coaches asked her to jump, so she did. She ended up winning gold with a national record of 14.69m.

By 2008, the triple jump had become her main event. She finished fourth at both the World Indoor Championships and Olympic Games that year, setting indoor (14.58m) and outdoor (15.11m) Asian records.

While most athletes are disappointed to miss out on a medal by one place, Rypakova was simply excited by her potential. Already she was thinking about the 2012 Olympics.

Rypakova’s breakthrough year came in 2010. She won all of her indoor competitions, culminating with the world indoor title with a winning leap of 15.14m to break her own Asian indoor record. And it ended with an outdoor Asian record of 15.25m to win the Continental Cup, followed a couple of months later by another Asian Games title.

She picked up silver medals at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 World Indoor Championships, but everything was still on track for the Olympic Games, and in London she duly delivered, winning gold with a leap of 14.98m.

Rypakova become just the second person from Kazakhstan to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics, following her namesake and idol Olga Shishigina, the 2000 Olympic 100m hurdles champion.

And, just like Shishigina, Rypakova instantly became a national icon.

New responsibilities

As if being a parent of two while juggling a career as an elite athlete isn’t challenging enough, Rypakova found after 2012 that her Olympic crown came with some additional responsibilities.

“Sometimes there are small disturbances,” she says. “For example, sometimes people want my autograph or ask to be photographed. The attention is nice, but it is sometimes difficult to focus on training.

“After the Olympics, I didn’t have much time for my family as I was travelling across Kazakhstan to various post-Olympic events. My daughter said to me, ‘Mom, maybe it would have been better if you finished second or third’.”

But thankfully things have now calmed down for Rypakova, who recently opened a new athletics track in her home town of Ust-Kamenogorsk. Her mother takes care of her young son while Rypakova trains, allowing her to focus on her preparations for the 2015 season.

“I don’t yet have a clear plan, but the basic outline includes some Diamond League meetings and then the World Championships in Beijing,” Rypakova said of the 2015 season.

“My ultimate goal is to go to Rio and, if possible, defend my Olympic title. But for now I’m not looking beyond 2016.”

If she is to succeed in Beijing or Rio, it would mean bringing an end to Ibarguen’s two-year winning streak. The Colombian also rocketed up the world all-time list in 2014 with her leap of 15.31m making her the fifth-best triple jumper ever, and sparking talk of a possible world record in the near future.

“Some athletes have already got quite close to it,” said Rypakova of InessaKravets’s 15.50m mark from 1995. “Sometimes you might feel ready to jump a world record, but then something doesn’t work. Everything must be in place: luck, form, health. Maybe next year someone will be lucky enough to break it.”


Source:  IAAF

Li Ling – Slow Starter, Fast Improver

Starting to train as a pole vaulter at the age of 12, Li Ling needed another 12 years to become the best female vaulter in China and, indeed, Asia.

“There were a few twists and turns in my career but I was just simply a slow starter,” said Li, who is now 25. "I started to train in pole vault at 12 and it took me nearly four years before I could actually clear a bar."

With her father being a basketball player and her mother a volleyball player, Li inherited a talent for sports from her parents but had little interest in ball games.

“Basketball or volleyball is not my thing," she added. "I just like the feeling of jumping high and pole vault is the best sport that meets my interest.

“I grew to 1.80 metres when I was only 12, but maybe I grew too fast as I was so skinny by then that my (lack of) strength became my weak point. When I began to train in the pole vault, I found it difficult to run fast holding the pole, let alone bend it.


“So I needed to not only learn the techniques but also work on my strength," she added. "Looking back at those four years of groundwork, I think being a slow starter is not a bad thing since it gave me more time to polish the essential techniques."

After years of waiting and preparation, Li finally tasted the feeling of flying over a bar in 2005, just before her 16th birthday.

However, her first competition was not a good start either.

Early embarrassment

“I remember my first competition was an indoor event in Shanghai. I finished at 3.60m, clearing that height. After the competition I cried, because some of my opponents just started at 3.80m, their competition was yet to begin when I was already out. That was too embarrassing.”

In her second serious competition, this time in Beijing, Li avoided such blushes and disappointment as she cleared 3.90m.

And her progress has hardly stopped since.

In 2006 she won her first national title at the Chinese National Junior Championships with a personal best of 4.15m, earning a trip to the IAAF World Junior Championships that summer on home soil in Beijing, where she qualified for the final but then failed to clear a height.

One year later, she improved to 4.30m at the National Grand Prix meeting in Suzhou.

In February 2008, Li cleared 4.45m at the National Indoor Championships to earn a ticket for to the 2008 Olympic Games.

“The Beijing Olympics was my first time to compete in major international events," said Li. "I was very, very nervous and only finished at 4.15m."

Now 1.85m, Li has now competed at two Olympic Games and three IAAF World Championships but has only once managed to make it into the final.

But her fortunes at big global competitions changed in 2013. Although she finished 11th with 4.45m in Moscow two years ago, her qualifying mark of 4.55m in the Russian capital was a personal best for Li and helped to boost her confidence considerably.

One month later, in September 2013, she set an Asian record of 4.65m at the Chinese National Games in Shenyang.

Last year witnessed another big breakthrough for Li as she leapt 4.55m to win at the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakech, Morocco, which was the first international title achieved by Li. It was also the only victory for the Asia-Pacific team at that competition.

Asian crown in Korea

She went on to fulfil her role as favourite by taking the Asian Games title in Inchon, Korea, two weeks later.

“After years of international competition experiences, I have learnt to overcome the stage fright and control myself in competitions," she said. "I think it is a sign of maturity.

“My coach never requires me to progress at a high speed. He just wants me to take one step at a time and try to compete to my best level in each event.”

This year has already started well for Li.

She cleared 4.50m to equal her own Asian indoor record on 1 March in Shanghai and went on to improve it to 4.51m one week later in Nanjing.

It is almost certain that the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing will be the fourth time Li will compete at the IAAF World Championships.

Although she is keen to atone for the disappointments of her teenage years on the global stage in the Chinese capital, she also remains cautious.

“I do not want to set a goal for the Beijing World Championships. I just want to stay healthy and give it my best try,” said Li. “I hope Chinese pole vaulters can reach the world level because I really love this sport.

“It is not simply running or jumping. It is a very sophisticated and interesting event. I never feel bored in the pole vault,” she added. “When you take off you can feel the elasticity of the pole that ejects you. You cross the bar, falling down while seeing it stay up there; that feeling is so amazing.”


Source: IAAF


On a dusty track occupied by armed soldiers and military hardware in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe just a matter of weeks after civil war broke out, DilshodNazarov weaved in and out of armoured tanks and personnel carriers.

It was 1992, Nazarov was just 10 years old, and he was walking 10 kilometres to his nearest athletics track to train for the hammer. After 90 minutes of training, he’d head back home along the same route.

“Public transport in Dushanbe didn’t work and I had to go to training on foot,” he said. “I was always tall and strong and looked older than my peers, but I was still a child. I was still scared.”

Over a three-year period, Nazarov made that same journey three or four times a week. “Three years later, when I bought a bicycle, I was the happiest boy on Earth and my journey to training became much easier.”

Born into a sporting family, Nazarov’s mother Zaytuna was a member of the national handball team. Nazarov played tennis, football and basketball in his youth, but in 1992 a neighbour introduced him to the hammer.

He began to devote most of his spare time to training, but in 1996 when Nazarov was aged just 14, his father was killed in the mountains near Afghanistan during the enemy’s large-scale armed attack.

“It was a very difficult time for our family,” said Nazarov. “My mother had to work hard and I was ready to give up athletics to find extra income, but my mother insisted I continued my career. It’s thanks to her that I stayed in athletics.”

Nazarov parted ways with his first coach and he and his mother began to study a range of books on training, weightlifting and hammer throw technique. To this day, Nazarov remains self-coached with his mother offering an extra pair of eyes to pick up on technical mistakes.

One year after his father’s death, Nazarov finished third at the West Asian Games. “That is when I realised that hammer throwing would become a huge part of my life,” he said.

Nazarov competed at the 1998 and 2000 IAAF World Junior Championships, finishing fifth in the latter, and then in 2001 he won his first major title at the Asian Junior Championships.

He married at the age of 19 and in 2002 his son Dalyer was born, followed two years later by daughter Amina. At about the same time, some local businessmen assisted Nazarov with funding, helping to cover training and travelling expenses. He also began to attend a three-month training camp twice a year in the Ukrainian city of Nova Kakhovka.

He soon began to reap the rewards and in 2003 Nazarov improved his PB by almost six metres. He qualified for the World Championships that year, but a back injury prevented him from competing. Further disappointment came in 2004 when he fouled all of his attempts in the qualifying round of the Olympics.

“I was very upset, but I wasn’t disappointed,” he said, “because I understood that I could throw much farther and be among the best hammer throwers in the world.”

Nazarov won the Asian Games title in 2006, but it was sandwiched between two below-par performances at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships. After the latter, he discovered he had a trapped nerve in his cervical spine. Once remedied, Nazarov continued his preparations for the 2008 Olympics.

Having improved his PB to 79.05m earlier in the season and chosen as his country’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony, Nazarov had high hopes in the Chinese capital. He made it to the final where he finished 11th with 76.54m, his best mark in a championship final up until that point, and realised afterwards that he needed more experience.

In Beijing he met with Czech manager Vladimir Maska, who was able to get Nazarov into some of the biggest meetings on the circuit. The following year in Uberlandia, Nazarov defeated the Olympic champion PrimosKozmus, setting a PB of 79.28m in the process.

“It was a time of rebirth for my international career,” said Nazarov, who went on to replicate his 11th-place finish from Beijing at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and then ended his season with victory at the Asian Championships. That same year he was also made president of the Athletics Federation of the Republic of Tajikistan.

In 2010 Nazarov went back to the drawing board and addressed some faults in his technique that had been present since his early days in the sport. That summer he broke through the 80-metre barrier for the first time, won the Asian Games title and then finished second at the IAAF Continental Cup. His consistency was rewarded with a second-place finish in the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge.

The following year was one of mixed fortunes as he finished a disappointing 10th at the World Championships in Daegu but ended the season with a PB of 80.30m in Zagreb, helping him to finish second once again in the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge standings.

A shoulder injury in 2012 prevented him from performing his best at the Olympics. Doctors at the Games injected a special gel into the affected area, which helped Nazarov get through the qualification round, but the pain returned in the final and he finished 10th.

Nazarov began to listen to his body in 2013 and spent more time at home in Tajikistan, even inviting Czech friend and rival Lukas Melich to join him in a training camp in Dushanbe.

“Fatigue from long flights and frequent competitions began to take their toll on me,” said Nazarov, who regularly cooks for friends and family – usually making his signature dish, pilaf – the night before departing for an overseas competition. “I wanted to enjoy my family, my house and my motherland for as long as possible.”

In 2013 Nazarov improved once more to 80.71m and won the Asian Championships in Pune. But despite throwing 78.31m to finish fifth at the World Championships in Moscow – easily his best ever performance at a global championship – Nazarov felt he should have thrown farther.

“In training I was throwing the 6kg hammer over 88m, which meant I should have been throwing the 7kg hammer about 82 or 83 metres, but my technique that day was horrible,” said Nazarov.

In many ways, 2014 has been one of Nazarov’s best seasons to date. He has thrown beyond 80 metres on three occasions and five of his eight best career throws have been set this year. He recently finished fourth at the Continental Cup in Marrakech, beaten only by the three men who have thrown farther than him this season.

“I was more or less content with my season, but some technical problems forced me to take a break in competition to prepare for the Continental Cup,” said the 32-year-old, who was team captain for Asia-Pacific.

Before hanging up his hammer for the season, Nazarov will head to the Asian Games later this month in the Korean city of Incheon with the aim of winning his third successive title.

He will then turn his attention to next year’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, where he will attempt to follow in the footsteps of countryman AndreyAbduvaliyev, winner of the hammer at the 1993 and 1995 editions of the championships.

His path to becoming global medal contender has been a long one – and one that is not yet over – but ever since his days as a schoolboy, walking miles through Dushanbe, Nazarov is no stranger to a long journey; however difficult it may be.


Source: IAAF