Updated 9 August 2008
Françoise MBANGO ETONE Cameroon (triple jump)
Born 14 April 1976, Yaoundé, Cameroon
Single. Lives and trains in Paris and Yaoundé
Home region: Dibombari District, Littoral Province (320 Km from Yaoundé)
She and twin brother are third and fourth of ten children; Parents unemployed
She’s a mother of a two years’ old boy, Adna-Niels, born on April 21 2006
Manager: Jos Hermens.
No coach since September 2003, training with the assistance of her sister Hélène Esseppo Etone
While a 15-year-old form four student at the Collège de la Retraite, a well-known Catholic secondary school in Yaoundé, Mbango jumped well enough to be invited to represent Cameroon at the Youth Games in Paris in 1991. It was just after leaving Collège Terenstra, another catholic secondary school based in Bertoua in the Eastern province of Cameroun. During her stay in Bertoua, she was well known as a cross-country runner.
In spite of this international experience, she did not train seriously and spent three years without international competition. During that period, she played football and participated casually in athletics, but still managed to become national high jump champion (1.45) in 1992 and runner-up the following year.
In 1994, coach Joseph Kameni – who took care of the 2008 Africa Championships silver medallist, Hugo Mamba Schlick in his start – recognized her potential and advised her to concentrate in a single discipline. She chose the horizontal jumps, and the following year she finished 4th (11.47m) in the triple jump at the Central African Championships hosted by Cameroon. In 1996, Cameroon hosted the African Championships, and Mbango jumped 12.51 for bronze behind Rosa Collins (NGR) and Kene Ndoye (SEN). Her best that year was 12.59, which won her a place in the Club CONFEJES (French Speaking Youth and Sports Ministers Conference).
In May 1997, she broke the national record with 13.04 against 13.01 held by Stephanie Betga, better known today as the rap singer Bam. Four months later Mbango improved that record to 13.75, winning a silver medal at the Francophonie Games in Tananarive (Madagascar). That was her ticket to the High Performance Centre in Dakar (DHPC), where she met the Ukrainian Anatoly Golubzov. With his help, she jumped 14.02 the following July (1998) and briefly held the African record, which she lost a week later to the Algerian Baya Rahouli, who jumped 14.05 in the Annecy (France) World Junior Championships.
Later that year, at the African Championships in Dakar (13.80) and at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur (13.95), Mbango picked up two silver medals, behind Baya Rahouli and Ashia Hansen (GRB) respectively.
After a lacklustre performance at the 1999 Seville World Championships (14.12), she came into her own at the Johannesburg All-Africa Games, placing 2nd in the long jump (6.55 NR) and taking her first African gold medal with an African record 14.70 in the triple.
In 2000 she moved from Dakar to Paris, where she joined the Jean Hervé Stiévenart jumpers group at INSEP (National Sports Institute of Paris). She won a second silver at the African Championships in Algiers (13.87) and reached the final in the Sydney Olympics, finishing a disappointing 10th (13.53). She made up for that the next year at the Edmonton World Championships, becoming the first athlete from Cameroon to win a World Championship silver medal (14.60).
In 2002 she won silver in Manchester Commonwealth Games (14.82) behind Ashia Hansen from Great Britain, gold at the World Cup in Madrid (14.37), and improved her African record to 14.95 for gold in the African Championships in Tunisia (where she also won the long jump with a windy 6.68). But relations with her French coach became strained and she went without a coach for six months from October 2002. She did not seem to feel the lack at the Indoor World Championships in Birmingham in March (2003), where she won silver (14.88), but in May, Juka Hakkonen of Finland agreed to help her prepare for the 2003 Paris World Championships. There she took another silver with a new African record 15.05, behind the Russian Tatyana Lebedeva – 15.18.
She had since split with Hakkonen and was training alone in Paris and Yaoundé with support from a former Cameroonian jumps coach, Ariane Bissik. Mbango made few appearances on the international circuit before the 2004 Olympics — chiefly a 14.62 for 6th at the Budapest Indoor World Championships and 14.85 for 3rd at the Lausanne Super GP. But as she has demonstrated many times before, she is a superb big-meet jumper, and going into Athens she had the added motivation of having just lost her African record (15.05 from Paris) to the newly minted Sudanese (former Cuban) Yamilé Aldama in the weeks before the Games. (Aldama jumped 15.21 in Greece in June and 15.28 at Linz in Austria in August.). Despite poor support from Cameroonian authorities before that 2004 Olympics, Mbango was keen to represent her country in Athens and renewed her rivalry with Lebedeva and Yamilie Aldama. Mbango wanted that record back. That year, Mbango was very confident and was only waiting for her day to win.
It proved to be motivation enough. After a first round foul, Mbango produced one of the finest championship series in the history of the event: five jumps over 15 meters, twice hitting the winning distance of 15.30 to emphatically reclaim her African record as well as the gold medal. Lebedeva wound up 3rd (15.14) and Aldama 5th (14.99). Only twice before in her career had Mbango ever topped 15 meters.
After this Greek summer, all eyes were turned on Helsinki, where the confirmation of Athens’ success was expected. But the Olympic champion unfortunately didn’t make the trip to Finland: “My mother was ill. She was to get travel documents for medical evacuation from the government of Cameroon. But in July 2005, nothing had been done and I didn’t feel able to face high-level competition, knowing that my mum was left on her own”, she confides now. A situation that later stirred up her desire to become a mother herself. In April 2006, Adna-Niels was born. The boy’s godfather is former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon Niels Marquardt, who helped her move to the United States at the end of 2005. For one year, the holder of ten African records, only had eyes for her little boy and her partner, a company officer in one of Cameroon’s leading mobile phone companies.
In January 2007, she went back to training, hoping to come back at the All Africa Games in Algiers. She was assisted by Patrice Silas Kinang Ngan, a former high jump champion, national coach of horizontal jumps and husband of Joséphine Mbarga-Kinang, the 2006 African champion in the long jump. But her return proved difficult and she was expected in Algiers in vain. She would explain later: “I didn’t feel ready; Some administrative procedures had not been assured…one should know that my presence in competitions doesn’t only depend on me, what depends on me is the performance I have to achieve!”.
After this lost opportunity, Mbango, who has become a close friend of Roger Milla, the former star of the Indomitable Lions and now an itinerant ambassador for African causes, got back to work. But her absen ce in Algiers wasn’t to the taste of the federal board who suspended her but only publicized the decision a few weeks before the 16th African Championships. Just at the time the 2004 Olympic champion decided to make her comeback at the interclubs meet in Yaoundé on March 22, 2008. Despite her suspension, she took part to the event and achieved a jump at 14.50m. A series of consultations and pressure at the highest level made the president of the federation capitulate so that the Olympic champion could travel to Addis Ababa and clinch her fourth African title with a performance of 14.76. A brilliant result considering it was her first top level competition since September 2004. And also considering that she prepares her training programmes on her own, drawing on the plans prepared by her previous coaches, particularly Russian Anatoliy Golobutsov, who led Inessa Kravets (UKR) to the World record in 1995 in Göteborg, Sweden (15.50). Mbango has been training without a coach since September 2003. The key of her return ? “Know how to do things at the right moment and to prepare for that. To prepare confidently and accordingly to your expectations” she says.
She didn’t stop there. She then competed in Abuja, Nigeria an AAC meet that is part of the IAAF World Athletic Tour (1st, 14.58), where she declared. “I came here to jump 14.50m and I succeeded…14.58 after a long journey is enough at my level of preparation. The Olympics will take place in August. For the moment, I am making tactical and technical adjustments, I am not chasing the performance. The most important for me in Abuja was to participate. I shall jump in the same spirit at the Lille Meeting (France) in a few days”. In Lille on June 27, she finished third with a 14.36m jump, defeated by Cuba’s Yargelis Savigne (15.02) and Ukraine’s Olha Saladuha (14.58).
By then, it is difficult to know her schedule: she huddled with her son and her partner who have meanwhile joined her in France. A judicious choice, as she achieved 14.93 in Bordeaux and 14.95 fifteen days later in Barcelona. During those two events she defeated the two best athletes in the world, who already have 15m credentials this season .This is not the case of Russian Tatyana Lebedeva who has not achieved 15m yet and hasn’t competed against Mbango this season. This isn’t a problem for the Cameroonese : “It’s true that I haven’t faced Tatyana Lebedeva yet, but I’ve met her several times between 2001- 2004, I know who she is, how she behaves in competition” she explains.
For Mbango, it’s an important psychological edge. She can make it out alright as even the best triple jump experts wouldn’t have bet on such a strong return. Despite not having solved all her administrative problems, the Olympic champion displays confidence, calm and good spirits. Thanks to governmental support for her Olympic preparation and her reward for her gold medal in Addis Ababa, she feels at peace and very motivated: “In 2004, I jumped to show that Africa and Cameroon abound with tops level talent. But this year, I’ll first jump to thank all those who missed my absence and show that a mother can get back to the highest level. I’ll also jump for my son and my partner”, she declared before leaving Cameroon on August 4. “The Olympic Games are unique. The meets I took part gave me an idea of the newcomers in the event, as I have been out of competition for three years. I respect all the participants as any can win, but personally, I just focus on what I’m able to achieve. I came to Beijing to meet the Olympic challenge!”
Time spent in preparation is considered a key factor for major championships. So a victory by Mbango could represent an interesting research subject for scientists. Mbango is anyway a leading contender of the triple jump at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Yearly progression TJ: 1994 - 11.41; 1995 - 11.47; 1996 - 12.59; 1997 - 13.75; 1998 - 14.02; 1999 - 14.70; 2000 – 14.18; 2001 – 14.65; 2002 - 14.95; 2003 - 15.05; 2004 – 15.30; 2005 – 14.26; 2007 – 13.58; ; 2008 – 14.95
2008: 1st African Championships, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (14.76)
2004: 1st Olympic Games, Athens – Greece (15.30)
2004: 1st IAAF Athletics Final, Monaco (15.01)
2004: 3rd IAAF Indoor World Championships, Budapest – Hungary (14.62)
2003: 2nd IAAF World Championships, Paris – France (15.05)
2003: 2nd IAAF Indoor World Championships, Birmingham – Great Britain (14.88)
2003: 3rd IAAF Athletics Final, Monaco (14.83)
2002: 1st IAAF World Cup, Madrid – Espagne, (14.37).
2002: 1st African Championships, Radès –Tunisia, (14.95)
2002: 1st African Championships, Radès –Tunisia, (6.68w) in Long jump
2002: 2nd Commonwealth Games, Manchester – Great Britain, (14.88)
2001: 2nd IAAF World Championship, Edmonton – Canada (14.60)
2001: 2nd Francophone Games, Ottawa – Canada (14.56)
2000: 2nd African Championships, Algiers – Algeria (13.87)
2000: 10th Finalist, Olympic Games, Sydney – Australia (13.53)
1999: 1st All-Africa Games, Johannesburg – South Africa (14.70)
1999: Qual. IAAF World Championship, Séville – Spain (14.12)
1998: 2nd Commonwealth Games, Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia (13.95)
1998: 2nd African Championships, Dakar, Senegal (13.87)
1997: 2nd Francophone Games, Tananarive – Madagascar (13.75)
1996: 3rd African Championships, Yaoundé, Cameroon (12.59)
1995: 1st Central African Championships, Yaoundé – Cameroon (11.47)