Updated 8 March 2008
María Romary RIFKA González, Mexico (High Jump)
Born 23 December 1970; Poza Rica, Veracruz, Mexico; 1.80m, 63kg
Lives in Veracruz
Coach: Guillermo Estrada
In 1970, the festive spirit in the Rifka Gonzalez family was not like it was for the normal Christmas – there was more reason than usual to celebrate. They were filled with joy when, the day before Christmas Eve, María Romary was born in Veracruz, one of the main cities of Mexico. Hardly anybody could imagine that the baby girl would turn into the best high jumper in her country’s history. Or that she would do it also surrounded by babies.
Her slim body immediately stood out among Mexican young girls, whose biotype is usually different. So she soon received many proposals to focus on sport, choosing the high jump because of her physical characteristics. Little time had gone by before she succeeded in Mexico. However, it was not until she was into her thirties that she exploded internationally.
In 2000 Romary decided to live with Alejandro Cárdenas, a 400m sprinter who had recently won the silver medal at 1999 World Championships in Seville, when he was defeated only by astonishing Michael Johnson’s world record (43.18). During those days, so far as the couple was concerned, the media focused only on Alejandro’s performance - although Romary was older than him, she hadn’t found her own way in athletics yet.
They considered that there would be enough time for Romary to shine in sport in the future, so in 2001 they bore a girl also called Romary. As the same time as Cárdenas was anxious to get good results, Rifka kept on training between changing nappies.
Later, Cárdenas began to suffer injuries, so he had to leave track and field training from time to time. Meanwhile, Romary started to achieve good results for Mexico, such as the silver medal at Central America & Caribbean Games in 2002. As had been the case with Cárdenas – and later on Ana Guevara – Mexico was not used to getting international titles at disciplines like 400m or high jump.
In 2003, Romary equalled Cristina Fink-Sisniega’s national record (1.94) twice; the second time she did so was at the Pan American Games, in Santo Domingo, during a close final against Juana Arrendel (Dominican Republic), when she finally finished second.
However, at 33, she managed to break the national record in April 2004 at Xalapa meeting (1.97). As a result, that season she became one of the best high jumpers in the world rankings. After that achievement, her performance was really wonderful. Nevertheless, she could not pass her own record.
That season was unforgettable for Romary. She not only achieved the national record but also secured the most important international title of her career up to that moment: she won the Ibero-American Championships, in Huelva, with 1.94, only a few weeks before the Olympics Games. She had trained hard and there, in Athens; she jumped 1.92 during the qualification, and was close to the final.
In 2005, Romary could not repeat the same results. Moreover, Cárdenas hadn’t recovered properly. So they made a promise to themselves before the World Championships in Helsinki: if they couldn’t get good results, they would think about having another baby. A few months later, Romary was pregnant.
As a result, she wasn’t able to take part in competitions during 2006. Therefore, the Mexican government decided not to give her the scholarship any more. Rifka was 35, so the Sports National Commission considered she would not jump any more, or at least she would not jump high enough to compete internationally.
In May 2007, close to the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro and World Championships in Osaka, Romary stood out with a mark of 1.95 and got the scholarship back. Then she was invited to train and to compete in other countries, like the offer she received from Belgium’s Tia Hellebaut, the European indoor and outdoor high jump champion who would become the 2008 World Indoor pentathlon champion. Having the opportunity to share experiences with the best athletes would finally be profitable.
Her performance in Rio de Janeiro was amazing. At the very beginning she was insecure, but she began to feel more and more confident with every jump and she finally competed head to head against Canadian Nicole Forrester. The public seemed to witness the same story of Santo Domingo 2003, of two athletes battling for the gold medal. This time Romary won the title with 1.95 while her two children were waiting for her in Mexico.
After taking a rest for a few days, Rifka traveled to Osaka dreaming about reaching the World Championships final. However, she was not at her best and only jumped 1.88 during the qualification. Anyway, she would remember 2007 as a wonderful season.
At the beginning of 2008, Romary started an indoor tour as she used to do until 2004 so as to be ready for the Olympics Games in Beijing. She trained hard both in Czech Republic and Russia and competed twice with 1.84 in Prague and Gora. Although she was unable to reach the final of the 2008 World Indoor Championships, in Valencia, she did set a national indoor record of 1.90m. She hasn’t been part of a major championship final yet, but she is focused on making her dream come true during the Olympics Games so as to celebrate it with her husband and children.
1.97 (2004); 1.90i (2008)
2002: 1.85; 2003: 1.94; 2004: 1.97; 2005: 1.90; 2006: NM; 2007: 1.95; 2008: 1.90i
2002 2nd Central America & Caribbean Games (San Salvador) 1.85
2003 2nd Pan American Games (Santo Domingo) 1.94
q World Championships (Paris) 1.80
2004 q World Indoor Championships (Budapest) 1.86i
1st Xalapa 1.97 (NR)
1st Ibero American Championships (Huelva) 1.94
q Olympics Games (Athens) 1.92
2005 q World Championships (Helsinki) 1.84
2007 1st Pan American Games (Rio de Janeiro) 1.95
q World Championships (Osaka) 1.88
Prepared by Víctor Pochat for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.