In the context of South American athletics, there used to be a time when one of the weakest events for Brazil was the Pole Vault. In fact, only four men have won a South American title since the 1950’s: Hélio Buch da Silva (’52), Marcelo de Souza (’61), Renato Bortolocci Ferreira (’75, ’77, and ’89) and Fábio Gomes da Silva (2005, ’07).
In the middle of that, the country exported Tom Hintnaus, a Brazilian-born son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, who moved with his family to the US at the age of two. After missing the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, due to the American boycott, Hintnaus decided to represent Brazil, starting in 1983. In those years, Hintnaus elevated the national record from 5.00m to 5.76.
“Hintnaus is one of those strange cases in athletics, where a person decides to represent a country that is not his “own”, and then, nobody benefits from it… Hintnaus didn’t even speak Portuguese and left records that seemed unreachable. That made our life very difficult,” said Élson Miranda de Souza, a former Brazilian champion, and coach.
After Hintnaus’ retirement, South America didn’t have a consistent vaulter over 5.50. The eruption of Argentina’s Germán Chiaraviglio indicated that Hintnaus’ old record could be beaten soon. All arrows were pointing towards the talented Argentinean, after his 5.51 World Youth Best from 2004, and his victories at the IAAF World Youth and Junior Championships of 2003 and 2006, the latest with a South American Junior record of 5.71.
Yet, the man which destiny was waiting for such feat was Brazilian Fábio Gomes da Silva, a man actually coached and discovered by Miranda de Souza.
“I was born in Campinas, a city of the interior of the State of São Paulo,” Gomes da Silva explains. “Like most kids, I loved physical education at school. It used to be my favorite assignment. I used to put all my efforts into it, and one day, my professor knew about an athletics camp in Campinas. I went over with three other kids, and that was my official beginning in the sport, in 1999, when I met my coach, Élson.”
“Things went well in those early days, and my family understood that I needed to move to São Paulo if I wanted to continue my evolution. I believe that being here, without my family, made my spirit stronger.”
Fábio cleared 5.00m for the first time in 2000, at the Brazilian U-18 Championships, and that year he finished second at the South American Youth Championships. In those days he became very competitive with Chileans Jorge Naranjo and José Francisco Nava, who were a dominant force then, and in 2002, he finally won the South American Junior title. Also in 2002, his last as a junior athlete, Gomes da Silva earned a spot in the final of the IAAF World Junior Championships in Kingston, setting a 5.17 PB, a performance that is still a national junior record.
Petrov’s visit marks a turning point
“At the early days with Élson, we used to train with the so called American technique, but back in 2004, the Brazilian Confederation, brought Italian coach Domenico Ingrosso, one of the assistants of Vitaly Petrov to our country, and that was the decisive turning point for many of the Brazilian vaulters. Then, we drastically changed the way we trained.”
Along with the evolution of compatriot and teammate Fabiana de Almeida Murer, also from Campinas, who in 2006 captured the South American record to take it from 4.43 to 4.66 in that season, Gomes da Silva also made significant progress, taking his PB from the 5.25 achieved in 2003, and then to 5.65 in 2006.
“My goal for 2006 was to qualify for the IAAF World Indoor Championships. That wasn’t possible, because I achieved the standard afterwards, but the progress made then, on top of the visit of Petrov to São Paulo in January of 2007, created a great impact on me.”
“If we have been able to achieve anything, the reason for that is Petrov. Because it’s thanks to Vitaly, that today we can enjoy certain recognition outside our country, and we can proudly show the quality of his work”.
Two decade old national record finally falls
After setting an indoor best of 5.41, Gomes da Silva began his 2007 season with several goals: the South American Championships, the Pan-American Games, the Osaka World Championships, and ultimately, the Area and national record.
His third outdoor competition of the season saw an improvement to 5.70, 3 weeks before the South American Championships. And on the afternoon of 7 June, at his training ground of São Paulo, on the track of the “Parque Ibirapuera”, Gomes da Silva broke into history by winning the title, beating Chiaraviglio, and erasing the 21-year-old record of Hintnaus with a brilliant 5.77 leap, adding one centimetre to the performance set in Zürich, on 21 August 1985.
“I haven’t had the chance to meet Hintnaus, but it was a great feeling to break that record after all those years. Many were expecting it, and I was getting a bit anxious too.”
The season proved to be an intense one, and the next challenge emerged in Rio de Janeiro, at the Pan-American Games. It was supposed to be a great contest between Gomes da Silva, Chiaraviglio and Mexican Giovanni Lanaro, who had been very consistent over 5.80. Yet, weather-wise, it was the worse day of the competition, and the pouring rain washed away the possibility of big performances.
Pan-American title in difficult conditions
Under those very difficult conditions, the Brazilian won in a tremendous display of confidence and consistency with 5.40, 10cm higher than Lanaro and 20cm higher than Chiaraviglio.
“The mark from Rio wasn’t a great one, but it was impossible to vault higher in those conditions. Still, the victory meant a lot to me. It was some sort of realization for all the efforts I have been making through the years,” Gomes da Silva added.
The final challenge of the season would come on the other side of the globe, in Osaka, Japan.
“To be at the World Championships was one of my goals for the season, and ended up being one of the greatest moments of 2007.”
Gomes da Silva jumped 5.65 in the qualification, and then, in the final, produced his second best performance – 5.76 – to place tenth.
“There in Japan, we enjoyed great recognition from coaches like the legendary Tom Tellez, who praised Fábio very highly,” explains coach Miranda de Souza. “That meant a lot to us... In terms of marks, I was able to feel that he could continue his improvement, so I’m hoping to see him above 5.80 soon. The key will be to continue the technical evolution.”
‘If you love what you do, the results will be there’
“That result of Osaka was a great ratification of my growth, and stays up there, with the record, the South American title, and the victory at the Pan-American Games,” Gomes da Silva added.
“There’s not only one secret at this very technical event. I guess if you love what you do, the results will always be there. I have been very lucky to have the key support from my family and my wife Luana.”
“We have a good rivalry with Germán Chiaraviglio; the key is to always put the emphasis on improving your marks, then, the rest comes by itself. With Fabiana Murer, Germán, and myself, I think we can expect a big performance in a world event, like the Beijing Olympic Games.”
“My biggest challenge for 2008 is to have the best possible preparation. If I train well, like for 2007, the improvement in my performances will come, and having that, I know we can expect good things.”
Eduardo Biscayart for the IAAF
- Fábio Gomes da Silva (BRA) -
Campinas, São Paulo, 4 August 1983. 1.78m, 74Kg. Club: BM&F Atletismo. Coach: Élson Miranda de Souza.
South American PV record holder (5.77 ’07). Brazilian Junior (5.17 ’02) and Youth (5.01 ’00) record holder.
Pan-American Games Champion (’07); Ibero-American Champion (’04); South American Champion (’05, ’07); South American Junior Champion (’02).
Progression at PV: 1999- 4.75; ’00- 5.01; ’01- 5.16; ’02- 5.17; ’03- 5.25; ’04- 5.55; ’05- 5.50; ’06- 5.65; 07- 5.77.