Updated 6 March 2008
Marija ŠESTAK, Slovenia (Triple Jump)
Born: 17 April 1979, Kragujevac, Serbia
Lives: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Coach: Matija Šestak (her husband)
At 28, Marija Šestak (pronounced Shestahk) is beginning her second decade of high level competition in the triple jump, but the Serb-born Slovenian didn’t make real international waves until her stunning 15.08m leap at the Athina 2008 Meeting in Athens on 13 February. With her breakthrough jump, Šestak became only the fifth jumper to ever surpass 15m indoors, and only two – Tatyana Lebedeva (RUS) at 15.36m and Ashia Hansen (GBR) at 15.16m— have leaped farther.
“It is a great improvement,” she said in a recent interview on TV Slovenia, one of many television appearances the rising star has made at home. “But in the triple jump, when you nail the right technique, that adds about 15 cm per jump segment. So in that sense, it’s not impossible. The triple jump is the kind of discipline that, if you’re not feeling well, or 100 per cent, you jump a half metre less that you’re capable of.”
After a series of highs and lows that have plagued her over the years, Šestak appears to have finally found the right combination to fulfill the capabilities she displayed during her successful career as a junior.
Born Marija Martinovic in Serbia (then Yugoslavia) in 1979, Šestak lived in Kragujevac in her early years, where she began her athletics career. By 1997 she was making her mark as a junior, culminating in a silver medal at the European Junior Championships in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital that seven years later would become her home.
She followed up her European junior silver with World Junior bronze in Annecy, in 1998, finished eighth at the European Under-23 championships in 1999, and made her first – and to date only—Olympic appearance in 2000, but failed to advance from the qualifying round. Prior to Sydney, she broke through the 14m barrier at the European Cup Second League competition, reaching 14.06.
The following year she improved to second (13.72m) at the European Under-23 Championships, but soon thereafter, a series of injury setbacks began that not only thwarted her improvement, but also nearly ended her career. First it was a broken bone in her foot, and then in May of 2004 she was hit with an Achilles tendon injury; after the latter she vowed to never compete again, but her soon-to-be husband, Slovenian 400m record holder Matija Šestak (45.43), persuaded her to change her mind, and she resumed serious competition in 2006.
The two met at the 2002 European Indoor Championships, in Vienna, and she eventually moved permanently to Ljubljana in June 2005. Her husband has been her primary coach since. “He’s obviously taken very good care of me,” she says.
2006 was her first breakout season as a senior, improving not only her career bests, but her consistency as well. She improved to 14.51 in Ljubljana in early June, 14.52 in Lausanne in mid-July, and to 14.53 in a Slovenia Grand Prix meet in Celje in September, just three days after finishing a notable fifth at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart. She received Slovenian citizenship on 13 July, too late to be able to compete at either the European Championships, in Gothenburg, or at the European Indoor Championships, in Birmingham, in March 2007.
Better consistency in her technique and an improvement in speed were the hallmarks of her 2007 season. She extended her indoor best to 14.48 in Dusseldorf in early February, but her first big leap would once again come at home where she reached 14.92 at the Ljubljana stop of the Slovenian Grand Prix, a mark which would hold up as the fourth farthest of the year.
She followed up with runner-up finishes in Lausanne and Monaco, and a victory in Thessaloniki, as a warm up to her first World Championships. She competed well in Osaka, producing her finest overall series, topped out by a 14.72 leap to finish fifth. Again she concluded her season with a fifth place finish at the World Athletics Final.
Her 2008 season began as the season before, with an indoor national record in Dusseldorf, where she improved to 14.60. Five days later came her colossal leap in Athens. Her leap into 15m territory was, obviously, a massive confidence booster as well.
“I was looking forward to the meeting in Athens,” she said. “People often jump well there, the surface is fast. I just did everything the way you’re supposed to. After my jump in Athens I believe in myself a lot more. I know now that none of my competitors who will be in Valencia are better than me. They may be better in one competition, but I can beat them in others.”
But she’s also taking nothing for granted. “At the moment I have the best result in the world, but at big competitions world lists don’t mean a thing. Of course, I’m going to Valencia thinking about a medal. I’m going to jump for the win. If I can reach another jump as in Athens, I could win.”
Triple Jump: 15.08i (2008), 14.92 (2007)
Long Jump: 6.59i (2007), 6.58 (2007)
1996 - 13.09 (13.33w); 1997 - 13.62; 1998 - 13.47; 1999 - 13.24; 2000 - 14.06; 2001 - 13.72 (13.97w); 2002 - 13.81; 2003 - 13.12; 2006 - 14.53; 2007 - 14.92
1997 - 13.33; 1998 - 13.32; 2000 - 13.69; 2002 - 14.26; 2006 - 14.08; 2007 - 14.48; 2008 - 15.08
1997 2nd European Junior Championships
1998 3rd World Junior Championships
1999 8th European U-23 Championships
2000 22nd Olympic Games
2001 2nd European U-23 Championships
2002 6th European Indoor Championships
2002 1st Balkan Championships
2003 8th World University Games
2007 5th World Championships
Prepared by Bob Ramsak for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.