Updated 23 August 2007
Zulia Inés CALATAYUD Torres, Cuba (800m)
Born 9 November 1979, Havana, 1.69m 59kg
Coach: Faustino Hernández
Youngest of 9 siblings
Named after a Venezuelan state (Zulia), where an uncle - then a judoka - won an international competition, Zulia Calatayud began in sport to treat her asthma. Taking athletics seriously since 1995, she said: "I have always liked to run and I was one of the fastest in school".
Calatayud, who attended Havana's Manuel Permuy Sports School, preferred sprinting initially. But her first coach, Nelson Gutierrez, realised that she had more potential to double at 400 and 800 metres. At first Calatayud showed better results in the one-lap race, reaching the semi-finals of the 1998 World Junior Championships in Annecy, France.
But the following season brought her breakthrough year at 800m. She improved from 2:12.7 to 2:00.67 to claim a surprising silver medal in the Pan American Games in Winnipeg. She also made her World Championships debut, in Seville, but could not advance beyond the first round.
Before turning 21, Calatayud had an excellent Olympic debut with a sixth-place finish in Sydney, setting a personal best of 1:58.66, three months after first breaking the two-minute barrier (1:59.63) in Jena, Germany, on June 3.
In 2001, she improved her personal best to 1:58.60, but failed to qualify for the final at the World Championships, in Edmonton. She ended the season with fourth-place finishes at the Goodwill Games, in Brisbane, and the IAAF Grand Prix Final (now World Athletics Final) in Melbourne, which earned her the 10th place in her event in the inaugural IAAF World Rankings.
Calatayud made notable progress in 2002, smashing her personal best to 1:56.09, at the Herculis Golden League meeting, in Monaco, in July. In the process she defeated the World and Olympic champion, Maria Mutola. However, at the World Cup, in Madrid, two months late she managed only fourth place.
That was her last competition for 19 months. A left shin injury delayed her preparation for 2003 and, when she resumed training, an identical injury in her right leg forced her to rest to avoid surgery. As part of her recovery and comeback to athletics, she first trained in a pool to gain endurance before beginning light sessions on grass.
Finally able to return to the track, Calatayud was second in the 400 metres at the national championships, clocking 52.07. In her first international 800m in almost two years, she won a race in Algiers in 1:59.48, signalling her comeback. Six more meetings followed, including her victorious run at the Ibero-American Championships in Huelva, Spain, before the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
A season’s best of 1:59.21 advanced her to her second consecutive Olympic final, in which she finished eighth. While she did not have enough time in her comeback season to make the event’s super elite, the season was nonetheless a fine reward for an athlete whose future had looked uncertain just one year earlier. With eight competitions in three months, Calatayud ended the season at ninth in the IAAF world rankings.
Under the guidance of coach Faustino Hernandez, Calatayud resumed training for the 2005 season in late October 2004. Their plan for the season, she said, was fulfilled almost completely. She started at 1500m, with a third-place 4:23.84 clocking at the national championships in March followed by two local wins in May, preceding her participation in the European tour.
With the exception of her first race in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, Calatayud ran under two minutes in all of her six competitions prior her historic run for gold at the World Championships, in Helsinki. She ran a season’s best 1:57.92 in her semi-final, her second fastest ever, and In the final matched every move made by Mutola and world leader, Tatyana Andrianova. Waiting patiently, she produced an unstoppable finish for a clear victory in 1:58.82.
Catalayud’s world title victory was the third by a Cuban woman at 800m, following those of Ana Fidelia Quirot in 1995 and 1997. Although she races in 400 and 800 metres, Catalayud does not want to be compared with Quirot, who was also a double Olympic medallist and is considered the country's greatest ever female athlete. Yet she does say: “I feel great admiration for her”.
The national record (1:54.44), held by Quirot since 1989, is her long term goal, but she is ready to break the 1:56-minute barrier.
A pair of Golden League wins in Zurich and Berlin followed, before she ended the 2005 season with a convincing victory at the World Athletics Final in Monaco. The winning streak landed her atop the IAAF World Rankings, replacing Mutola who had led since the rankings were introduced in 2001.
“I definitely had my best season ever,” Calatayud said. “Helsinki brings me good luck. I won a Grand Prix event there in 2001 and then the world title. It will always have a special place in my heart.”
As usual, Calatayud skipped the indoor season. “I need to build up a solid endurance base to prepare for the outdoor season,” she said. “High performance sports involve a lot of risks. I am young and asthma is my main concern. The most important thing is to stay healthy and aim for a long career.”
Calatayud stayed consistent throughout the 2006 season and clocked her second fastest time ever (1:56.91) when placing third at the Athletissima meeting, in Lausanne, in July. She claimed the 800m crown at the 20th Central American and Caribbean Games, in Cartagena, Colombia, but after 51 consecutive weeks, she lost the No.1 spot in the rankings to Kenya’s African and Commonwealth champion Janeth Jepkosgei.
The Havana-born athlete ended 2006 on a high note, winning the World Athletics Final and the World Cup on consecutive weekends. She was selected as Cuban and Latin American sportswoman of the year.
However, Calatayud sustained injury and fell ill in 2007 and was almost forced to end the season without competing. Recovered in June, she trained for six weeks and secured the bronze medal at the Pan American Games, in Rio de Janeiro, in her first two races of the year. She also ran the third leg as the Cuban team who won the 4x400m relay gold with Daimi Pernia, Aymee Martinez and Indira Terrero. The same quartet will run in Osaka.
Initially, Calatayud thought of running the relay only but, after a 700m test in Osaka, she was convinced that she can dip under two minutes over two laps. So she decided that she would defend her title.
“The best times this year are attainable but, with insufficient training, it will be very difficult to run close to the season’s leading mark (1:57.63 held by Ukraine’s Yuliya Krevsun).
“I know I have to run under two minutes to qualify for the final and I am confident our team will perform well in Osaka, following our good results at the Pan Am Games in Rio”, she added.
Off the track, Calatayud is like any ordinary Cuban youngster. "I love to go out, dance disco and hip-hop,” she said. “I am fascinated by chocolate and I adore soap operas.”
She lives with her boyfriend Ernelis Labañino and is very close to her mother Petrona Torres.
1995: 2:18.9; 1996: 2:13.80; 1997: 2:12.7; 1999: 2:00.67; 2000: 1:58.66; 2001: 1:58.60; 2002:1:56.09; 2004: 1:59.21; 2005: 1:57.92; 2006: 1:56.91; 2007: 2:00.34
1999 2nd Pan American Games
2000 6th Olympic Games
2002 4th World Cup
2004 1st Ibero-American Championships
2004 8th Olympic Games
2005 1st World Championships
2005 1st World Athletics Final
2006 1st Central American and Caribbean Games
2006 1st World Athletics Final
2006 1st World Cup
2007 3rd Pan American Games
Prepared by Javier Clavelo for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2007