Alone among the world’s best pole vaulters this season, Brazil’s Fabiana Murer is competing with a massive weight of expectation upon her as a huge home medal hope at this summer’s Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
For many athletes, such a pressure might prove debilitating, but if anyone is going to manage the burden it is likely to be this 34-year-old from Sao Paolo, who plans to bring her long and be-medalled career to a close this summer.
“It is an important year for me with the Olympics being in Brazil,” said the 2011 world champion and world silver medallist ahead of the Globen Galan meeting in Stockholm – third leg in the IAAF World Indoor Tour – where she produced a season’s best of 4.71m to finish second behind the personal best of 4.81m achieved by Greece’s 2015 Diamond Race winner, Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou.
“This is a good meeting to jump high before the World Indoor Championships. It is always a nice competition for me in Stockholm. My base in Europe is in Malmo. I feel comfortable here in Sweden, the people are very friendly, the language not so easy to understand, but so many people are speaking English, which helps a lot.
“In 2009 I was thinking to retire in 2014. Then when Rio was selected for the Games I decided to continue my career to 2016 because I wanted to feel the experience of being in Rio during the Games.
“So this will be my last year. I was happy I could compete here in Stockholm for a last time. It is a very exciting season for me with the Olympics, but first I have to think about my indoor jumping and the World Indoors.
“I have a lot of things to do before Rio. It always remains in my thoughts, but I’m thinking of the moment now, thinking step by step.”
Spoken as a proper, experienced performer – one who equalled her South American record of 4.85m last summer to add a World Championships silver to the gold medal she had taken with the same height four years earlier in Daegu.
Murer’s career goes back a long way.
She broke through to win the South American Junior Championships in 1998, taking bronze in the senior version the following year. But her first IAAF World Championship appearance did not come until 2005, in Helsinki, where she didn’t make the final.
In the intervening years, as she recalled before her latest competition, her natural talents were re-shaped and directed by Ukraine’s Vitaly Petrov, who has mentored both Sergey Bubka and Yelena Isinbayeva.
“There wasn’t enough technical knowledge about the event in Brazil when I was starting my career,” she said. “I had to change everything in my technique under Vitaly. It took me three years to do it.”
But since then she has reaped the benefits of her diligence – the technique has been a gift that keeps on giving.
“I know it is difficult to continue at a high level. All these years I have stayed in the top 10. It is not easy to reach the high level, but it is more difficult to continue at the high level.
“I’m not so strong or so fast, but I have a good technique, and this has helped me a lot to stay consistent.”
Profile now in pole position
Murer has seen her public profile soar even higher as she heads towards the home Games.
“Now journalists always want to know about me, what I am doing, how are my feelings,” she said. “But I now have a person who takes care of this so I don’t always have to have interviews all the time, so I am still able to train in Sao Paolo.”
She admitted she was concerned about the spread of the Zika virus in her country ahead of the Olympics, but insisted it will not be “a big problem”.
“I am worried, of course,” said Murer. “I train in Brazil, so I try to take care about this and use all the repellents and creams recommended. The virus happens a lot in the north of Brazil. I train in the south, close to Sao Paolo, where we don’t have a lot of cases.
“Now it’s spread, it’s coming throughout the world but I think, during the Olympics, we won’t have a big problem, because in the winter in Brazil we don’t have a lot of mosquitoes.”
As one might expect from such a long career, there has been drama along the way.
“If you ask me about my best memory,” she said, “it has to be when I was world champion in 2011. I was the only gold medallist that Brazil has had at the World Championships, so it is a big memory.
“The bad one? London 2012 was really hard. I didn’t qualify to the final. It was really a difficult situation there. The weather wasn’t good so I could not manage my jumps. It was really difficult for me; I was very sad about it. But after that, I said to myself I have to stand up and continue to jump high because I have more things to do in my career.”
Starting with a quest in Portland next month to add another world indoor medal to two she already has, bronze from 2008 and gold from 2010.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF