Updated 5 August 2007
Ignisious Gaisah, Ghana (long jump)
Born 20 June 1983, Ashanti region, 1.86m / 70kg
Coaches: Monique Berrevoets, Eric van der Steenhoven
When Ignisious Gaisah broke the African junior record in the long jump in the Netherlands in 2002, the Ghanaian prospect was so unknown that he was for a few months mistaken for a Sierra Leonian. He hadn’t come from nowhere, exactly, but he had lost part of his name en route to Europe.
Born Anthony Ignisious Gaisah Essuman, he first made a name of himself as Tony Essuman. As a young boy, he was primarily interested in football, like most of his fellow countrymen. But, prone to injuries, he was prompted to look for an activity with less contact. At the age of 16, he took to athletics, a sport that his mother had practised briefly in an era when sport was not seen as compatible with family life.
He started as a high jumper (1.95 PB) but his fate changed when a team mate injured himself on the eve of a major inter-schools competition. As a replacement was needed in the long jump, he pleaded with his teachers to give him a try. “I can do it,” he said. Not only did he fulfil his team’s expectations, jumping well beyond 6 metres, he also discovered on that day that “in the long jump, you are much closer to the public” than in the vertical event.
Gaisah’s priorities thus shifted to sprints and the long jump. “I could manage 11.1 - 11.2 in the 100m and 22.3 - 22.4 in the 200m,” he says. But he rapidly drew attention with his performances in the long jump. After winning a national title with 7.40m in 1999, he picked up a bronze medal (7.42m) at the African Junior Championships, in Tunis, the same year.
The turning point came in 2002 when he travelled to the Netherlands to visit a family friend. He took the opportunity to venture to the local club (PAC Rotterdam) to show his skills. Monique Berrevoets (his future sprint coach) remembers the day she met him. "He just came to the track in Rotterdam one night, saying he was a good jumper,” she said. “At first I thought: ‘Here's another one who thinks he is a good jumper.’ But after watching him, I realised that he was indeed good.” Alongside Eric van der Steenhoven (a long jump coach), she has given the impetus to Gaisah's dazzling progression since then.
After breaking the 8m barrier in 2002, he finished 4th, at the age of 20, in the 2003 World Championships in Paris (8.13), his first participation in a global event. He then improved his national record by 5cm (8.26m) with a 3rd place at the World Athletics Final, before adding another 4cm to his best for a massive win at the All Africa Games, 38cm ahead his closest challenger.
In 2004, Gaisah managed a respectable 6th place in his first Olympics before setting a new national record for the second year in a row at the World Athletics Final in Monaco (8.32m). After jumping for half a year with pain his in knee, it was then time for surgery followed by a long break without training until January.
In 2005 Gaisah recorded another new best when it mattered most: at the World Championships, in Helsinki. Despite suffering cramps, he asserted himself as uncontested second (8.34m) behind Dwight Phillips's 8.60m. He recorded another 8.34m in Shanghai for his last outing of the season.
The world silver medal produced a major boost in Gaisah's career as it brought along an Olympic scholarship to help fund his training and a residence permit in the Netherlands, which allows him to stay for longer periods than with a visa. “You can see he's been working hard in Ghana, but each time he comes back to Rotterdam, there are a lot of little technical mistakes to correct again and again,” said Berrevoets on the night of Helsinki's long jump final.
On the strength of these improved conditions, Gaisah managed to fulfil all the objectives he had set for 2006: a new African indoor record (8.36) in Stockholm on February 2nd and, above all, the world indoor title in Moscow, prevailing over Panama's Irving Saladino after a closely fought contest (8.30 to 8.29m) and then the Commonwealth gold medal, of great value in the eyes of his countrymen!
After a few average performances in June, Gaisah switched to cruise mode, landing just 3 centimetres short of the African record in Rome (8.43m) on July 14.
At the African championships, he once more displayed nerves of steel to clinch the continental title and the selection for the World Cup on the very last attempt (8.51w).
Before the World Athletics Final, where he managed to produce an 8.26m jump for 4th, Gaisah had a couple of under-par meets: his mind was probably not focused on athletics so much with his first child, Miguel, being born in Ghana on August 27. He carried on with 4th place in the World Cup in Athens (8.09m), just 3cm short of 2nd before ending the season with an 8.16m win in Shanghai.
After skipping the indoor season, Gaisah made his return with an 8.08m victory in Abuja on May 5, his best so far in 2007. Hardly above 8m in Villeneuve d’Ascq (8.06m), Prague (8.05m) and Athens (8.04m), his performances have been hindered by patella tendinitis, which forced him to pull out of the All Africa Games final on July 20 so as not to risk damage just one month before the World Championships in Osaka.
Gaisah sees himself as “not as powerful as the other long jumpers but being able to compensate with sprinting abilities.”
He is coached by two Dutch trainers, Monique Berrevoets, in charge of speed and power, and Eric van der Steenhoven, who deals with the technical aspects of the jump from the take-off phase.
1998 – 7.35; 1999 – 7.42; 2000 – 7.40; 2002 – 8.12 (African junior record); 2003 – 8.30; 2004 – 8.32; 2005 - 8.34; 2006 - 8.43; 2007 – 8.08.
8.43 (2006); 8.36 indoors (2006)
1999 3rd African junior championships (7.42)
2003 4th World Championships (8.13)
2003 1st All Africa Games (8.30)
2004 6th Olympic Games (8.24)
2005 2nd World Championships (8.34)
2006 1st World Indoor Championships (8.30)
2006 1st Commonwealth Games (8.20)
2006 1st African Championships (8.51w)
Prepared by Carole Fuchs for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2007.