Once Nelson Evora had won the gold medal in the Triple Jump final in Beijing he pulled out a Portugese flag from his bag and started celebrating.
He had brought the flag along all the way from Portugal. It was a sort of a lucky charm for the 24-year-old, who has now won the two biggest medals available in athletics: The World Championships in Athletics and the Olympic gold. On that flag there were a number of words and messages written onto. Friends and family had done this to wish him well for the final in Beijing. For example it read ‘Kiss from a friend’ and an optimistic one just stated: ‘Congratulations’.
“This is a wonderful, unbelievable feeling. But even now that it is an hour ago that I won the gold I cannot really describe in detail how I feel,” said Nelson Evora, who took a thrilling comeptition with a season’s best of 17.67m beating Great Britain’s Phillips Idowu by just five centimetres – the smallest winning magin in Olympic history for 36 years.
Additionally it was a high-class event as well. Never before had one had to jump further than 17.50m for an Olympic bronze. Leevan Sands (Bahamas) won that with 17.59m.
“It was a crazy competition because the lead changed so often,” said Evora, who achieved his winning jump in round four. “I had a very good competition and had good self confidence. There was more in me than the 17.67 metres. So I think if someone would have jumped further I could have responded once again. I never competed on such a fast track before that was really great.”
“I know about the significance of this medal for Portugal and I am very happy to have won this for the Portuguese people,” said Evora, who is Portugal’s first Olympic athletics champion since 1996. It was Fernanda Ribeiro who took the 10,000 metres in Atlanta 96. “I still have to get used to having achieved something that Portugal’s best ever athletes have done as well – like Carlos Lopes and Rosa Mota.”
I got superb support from the whole team
Since some of Portugal’s athletes had underperformed in recent days in Beijing there had been speculation in the country’s media that the atmopshere inside the team would not be good anymore and could cause a problem for Nelson Evora. “But that is not true. I got superb support from the whole team,” said the Olympic Champion, who also thanked for the support he got in Portugal during the last years.
The World Champion from Osaka, who has a Long Jump best of 8.10m from last year, got some additional inspiration in Beijing when he carried Portugal’s flag during the opening ceremony.
Nelson Evora was born on the Cape Verde Islands and has family ties to the singer Cesaria Evora. His parents moved to the Ivory Coast first and on to Portugal when Nelson was six years old. One reason was to give their child better education. Today Evora is a student of marketing and publishing. He started to study after winning in Osaka a year ago.
Knee injury forced end to High Jump ambitions
When he had come to Portugal as a child he took up athletics. It was the High Jump where he was good at. At the age of eleven he cleared 1.64 m. In 2005 he jumped 2.07m indoors, but at that time the Triple Jump had been his main event for a longer time. A knee injury was the reason why he had given up high jumping at the age of 15. The risk of continueing was too high so he concentrated on the horizontal jumps from then on.
“I will keep my focus on the Triple Jump in the future,” said Evora, who competes for the famous Lisbon club Benfica. There he sometimes trains with Marcos Caldeira, who is a 19 year-old long jumper with a personal best of 7.58m. Caldeira got some inspiration from Evora and is expected to develop very well.
Already after Evora’s World Championships’ triumph the Long Jump and the Triple Jump got much more popular in Portugal. “A lot of youngsters are now doing these disciplines. And probably there will be even more after this,” said a Portugese athletics team official.
But at 24 years Evora is still very young himself. “I want to further improve in future,” he says. So far his personal best stands at 17.74m with which he took the gold in Osaka in 2007.
“My aim is to go for the 18 metre mark by improving my technique, my speed and my strength,” Evora said. “You cannot achieve everything at once. It is better to do it step by step. There are examples that if you want too much at once you loose everything.” So far Nelson Evora has won a lot.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF