Unquestionably, Brazil has had a fine tradition in the jumping events, although it was mostly built around triple jumpers. Multiple medallists at Olympic Games and World Championships have given the South American nation a strong reputation throughout the years, since the days of Adhemar Ferreira da Silva in the 1950s.
However, something seems to be changing. Nowadays, the Triple Jump seniority is shifting to the Pole Vault. Fábio Gomes da Silva reached two World Championships finals and Fabiana Murer earned World titles indoor and outdoor for Brazil. Both athletes are coached by Élson Miranda de Souza, who has now developed another talent – World junior champion Thiago da Silva.
“Thiago is a great athlete, still young and under development,” explains de Souza. “Pole vaulting is a very complex event and he still has a long way to go to fully understand certain technical aspects of the event. Then he must start to build his own path to continue growing. But we are very pleased, as he is evolving very well after winning one of the most competitive Pole Vault finals at the World Junior Championships that I remember.”
Da Silva’s Beginnings
In his hometown of Marília, da Silva was introduced to athletics by his uncle Fabiano Braz da Silva, a decathlete with a PB of 6916. Aged 13, da Silva would go to the track with his uncle every morning. After a short-lived stint playing for his school basketball team, da Silva returned to athletics aged 14 and began to train properly.
“My first coach was Alexsandro Ramos,” he recalls. “A fellow athlete who trains now with me in São Paulo (Augusto Dutra de Oliveira) became my inspiration. I was seeking a better future outside of Marília.”
After his initiation in Marília, da Silva was invited to train more seriously in Bragança Paulista, where he remained for seven months. Aged 15 with a PB of 4.60m, he quickly realized that he needed to evolve technically, so he contacted de Souza via e-mail.
“I told him that it was my dream to train with his team to become a better pole vaulter,” says da Silva. The pole vault guru invited Da Silva to join his group, and the teenager moved to São Paulo to focus on the 2010 season.
“I had – and I still have – great admiration for Fabiana Murer, Fábio Gomes da Silva, so training with them was very motivating,” says da Silva, who also looks up to triple jumper and fellow Marília native Jadel Gregório, as well as pole vault World record-holders Sergey Bubka and Yelena Isinbayeva.
Once settled in São Paulo, de Souza and da Silva set the goal of reaching the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, mostly to gain experience at a major event. He qualified for the Games and broke the Brazilian youth record (5.10m) before leaving for Singapore.
“Élson only asked me to make it to the final; the podium was not our priority,” recalls da Silva. “But I was very inspired and focused. The final was held on a rainy day, and my concentration helped me to deal with those tricky conditions.”
The result was the silver medal with a 5.05m performance. “That great outcome opened lots of doors for me,” remembers da Silva.
The partnership between de Souza and top Russian coach Vitali Petrov has brought pole vaulting in Brazil to a higher level. “Both coaches have taught me that a house is built from its foundation, you never should start from the roof,” says da Silva. “They decided not to rush things with me, putting emphasis on my technique. We are working gradually to build a solid structure to continue my growth for the future. Everything seems very promising.”
For 2011, aside from the obvious aim of continuing to progress, da Silva’s main goal was the Pan-American Junior Championships, which he won with a 5.20m clearance. Just one week prior, he had improved his best to 5.31m for a Brazilian junior record. With all of the season’s goals accomplished, da Silva’s attention shifted to the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona.
At the beginning of that year, and then again in June and July, da Silva had two long periods of training with Petrov. “That ended up helping a great deal,” says da Silva. “On the technical side, the main change was the run-up, which we extended from 16 to 18 steps.” This allowed de Silva to gain more speed on the runway and to use longer poles, resulting in higher vaults.
Triumph in Barcelona
Da Silva went to Barcelona off the back of a recent 5.35m personal best set in São Paulo, confident of securing a medal in the Catalan capital. But things got a little complicated in the qualification round.
He only managed to vault 5.05m in the qualification after failing at 5.15m. He scraped through to the final in twelfth and last place.
“After that, we (Vitali and I) spoke to him, telling him to forget the negative experience in the qualification, which perhaps was due to all the technical changes,” says de Souza. “Once in the final we knew the medals would be difficult to reach, as Thiago had two or three competitors with greater experience and better marks.”
“The qualification day was strange. It felt as I was a bit disconnected; like I wasn’t there,” remembers da Silva. “But the final was a different story. I felt much better after speaking to Élson and Vitali, and I recall thinking how awesome it was to have two great coaches watching after me.”
The opening height in the final was 5.10m, followed by 5.20m. “When I vaulted over 5.30m, I realised it was a special day,” says da Silva. “I wasn’t thinking about a medal, but I was certain of improving my personal best.”
He did that on his very next height, 5.40m, and then again with 5.45m, sailing over it on his first attempt. “I gained lots of confidence after that, then two minor observations by Petrov enabled me to vault over 5.50m and 5.55m and to win the title,” he says.
“It seems unreal to improve your best four times in one competition, but it was simply the reward for all the work we put and for the great advice and knowledge of my coaches.”
Future and perspective
With good height, speed and gymnastic ability, it’s no wonder that da Silva was touted as a great pole-vault talent when he was first spotted. “When I think about other successful pole vaulters, he reminds me a bit of Maksim Tarasov, who was a very fine technician,” says de Souza of the 1992 Olympic champion and world junior record-holder. “But Thiago is his own person and he still has a long way to go.”
The focus in training from now on will once again shift. Having just turned 19, the aim will be to make da Silva stronger and to be consistent at the 5.50m level with the goal of clearing a best of 5.60m in 2013. He may also compete indoors, which would be a first for da Silva.
“The first goal is to gain consistency, though,” insists de Souza. “Rio 2016 is still a long way away, and not all successful junior athletes leave a mark at major senior events. We know there are no guarantees.”
Da Silva also knows that there is work to be done over the coming years. “I have achieved important goals already, but the Pole Vault is a very complex event,” he says. “My best of 5.55m is good for a junior, but that performance won’t take me very far at the senior level so I know I must continue to progress. What I have accomplished at my teen years won’t matter anymore. I will have to work hard to carry on with the tradition started by Fabiana and Fábio.”
Eduardo Biscayart for the IAAF