Spain’s world junior triple jump champion Ana Peleteiro has the chance to follow in the footsteps of her direct predecessor, Cuba’s Dailenys Alcantara, and achieve the rare feat of winning back-to-back titles at the IAAF World Junior Championships.
Still only 16 at the time of the previous championships on the home soil of Barcelona, Peleteiro made a major breakthrough there as she improved her personal best no less than 64cm in the final, beating her national junior record three times and finishing off the contest with a magnificent effort of 14.17m.
However, 2013 was not a bed of roses for Peleteiro and that huge leap in the Catalan city remains her career best two years later.
“The 2013 campaign was really tough for me for a series of reasons. Firstly, I split up with my former coach (Abelardo Moure), I also had a frustrating academic year at school and what’s more important I fell injured for three months,” she said.
“All these setbacks together led me to make the decision – along with my family and the Spanish Federation – to come to Madrid to train under the guidance of Juan Carlos Álvarez."
Having conquered the world scene in Barcelona one year before, Peleteiro’s target of taking the gold medal at the 2013 European Junior Championships in the Italian town of Rieti sounded more than reasonable at the early stages of the season but she finally had to settle for third place on the podium with 13.29m.
“The bronze medal I managed there was actually a great achievement after the dreadful season I had had. I had only one month’s proper training in order to go to the Europeans in the best possible shape, so I was over the moon even grabbing ‘only’ bronze.”
Peleteiro speaks cautiously about the challenge facing her at Oregon 2014.
“The fact of being the defending champion doesn’t mean I’m the favourite, people sometimes forget what a World Championships are about: the best athletes worldwide fighting to death to conquer the coveted gold medal and fulfill their dreams after a very tough preparation throughout the year.”
The Spanish kangaroo admits she might be satisfied even without retaining her title. “Providing that my performance and my feelings during the contest are OK, I would leave Eugene happy whatever my final rank is.”
She is the 2014 world junior leader with the 14.07m effort she managed in Salamanca last month but Peleteiro said: “The season’s lists are only season’s list, that’s why the championships are so magical as anything can happen on a given day. For instance, I only ranked sixth prior to the Barcelona Worlds and finally captured gold.”
Running the rule over her rivals
Among the Spaniard’s toughest rivals in her quest for a repeat gold medal should be Italy’s reigning European junior champion Ottavia Cestonaro, the Romanian pair of Elena Panturoiu and Florentina Marincu, the latter being the world youth long and triple jump champion, and China’s Wang Rong.
“They all seem to be in nice form. The Romanians should be my fiercest rivals, they are really strong and always perform at their highest level when it really matters,” added Peleteiro.
Her approach to the event is quite different two years later. “I’m more nervous now than two years ago in Barcelona; then, I was a 16-year-old kid, quite unheralded and I only had to try to make the final theoretically. Nowadays, I’m much more well known and everyone has their eye on me being in the Eugene medal picture. It encourages me to battle even harder but it also puts some extra pressure on me."
In addition to her opponents, Peleteiro will also have another dangerous rival in the guise of the nine-hour time difference between Eugene and Madrid.
“I’m really worried because of the jet lag as we’ll leave Spain on Sunday 20 July and I’ll only have three days to get accustomed to the local time but I’ll try to sleep as little as possible during the flight to sleep properly once we arrive at Eugene.”
Another dramatic change in Peleteiro’s daily routine this time around is her training regime.
“Before coming to Madrid, I used to train just four times a week, each session lasting between two-and-a-half and three hours; those sessions were not specific nor did I work on strength. From last October, I now train on a six-session weekly basis; the sessions are shorter but I’m now more focused on the triple jump."
The 18-year-old ace seems to be delighted with the new method. “I love weight-lifting. I believe that kind of work is vital to prevent injuries which are very frequent in my speciality. The weight-lifting sessions let me to finish my competitions without any discomfort or niggles."
A jump into the future
Asked on her technique self assessment, Peleteiro explained: “I would say my strongest phase is the first jump; this year we’re really focused on taking advantage of my speed in order to maintain it during the second phase and get a huge third jump.
"Definitely, I’ll would like to set a PB in Eugene but you never know how much you can improve on a single performance."
Three weeks after the World Junior Championships are over, Peleteiro will be going to the European Championships, closer to home in Zurich.
“I’m looking forward to competing with the big girls there. It will be an extra effort to keep on training in August for the first time, especially taking into account that the heat in Madrid is unbearable at that stage of the year. Anyway, that’s the sporting life and I’m convinced every sacrifice has a reward."
The Ribeira-born jumper – a picturesque fishing city placed 650km away from Madrid in northwest Spain – represented Spain at the recent European Team Championships last month, one of the youngest competitors in the whole event, but she had to be content with a below-par performance on that occasion.
“The weather (cold) and my mood didn’t help me but I don’t like to make excuses, I simply didn’t perform well there."
On her renowned competitiveness, Peleteiro still finds room for improvement.
“It’s true that when I feel pressure I get an extra motivation. When a competition becomes extremely close and my rivals push me I do my best to leap as far as possible.
“The other side of the coin is that I can’t produce my 100 per cent best when I have no stiff opposition. I hope to overcome this weak point in the near future. On the day of the event I like being with my parents until three to four hours prior to the competition but afterwards I prefer being along or in the company of my coach who builds a key confidence in me."
So what does the world junior champion do in her free time? “I’m very keen on my family so I spent my free time in the company of my relatives and closest friends. I also love music, I use my headphones constantly!”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF