In an interview published in the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta Dello Sport on Friday morning, Pedro Pablo Pichardo predicted: “I will be over 18 metres soon.”
Well, Cuba’s 2012 world junior triple champion and world silver medallist delivered quickly on his promise when he bounded out to 18.06m at the first IAAF Diamond League meeting of the 2015 season in Doha that night.
Pichardo joined an elite band of jumpers who have gone farther than 18 metres – only Jonathan Edwards, Kenny Harrison and Teddy Tamgho had gone past that standard before Friday’s competition and Olympic champion Christian Taylor also joined that group in Doha – and he moved up to third on the world all-time list for the event.
Now, Pichardo has Edwards’ iconic and often seemingly-unobtainable world record of 18.29m firmly in his sights; a mark set at the 1995 IAAF World Championships and which will celebrate its 20th anniversary on 7 August if Pichardo hasn’t beaten it by then.
"I now think I can jump over 18.30m, I just have to keep working as I am doing," said the thrilled 21-year-old after winning in Doha.
“My targets for this summer are to win in Beijing at the World Championships, win at the Pan American Games, which will be held in Toronto, and do everything possible to go farther than 18.30m.”
“But I’m still very happy and surprised to have gone over 18 metres,” he added.
However, many pundits were expecting something big in the perfect jumping conditions at the Qatar Sports Club in the wake of his previous national record of 17.94m in Havana just the week before.
The hour-long competition was held with a light following wind – Pichardo’s big jump was accompanied by a 0.8m/s breeze on his back – temperatures about 33C throughout, and good physical facilities for jumping at an event which could boast of a previous meeting record of 17.49m by France’s Teddy Tamgho in 2011.
It was Tamgho, who finished third on Friday but also injured his achilles, on whom Pichardo partially has modelled himself on with the help of his current coach, the former Cuban international and 17.02m jumper Daniel Osorio.
“I think I’m a mixture of all three men who jumped 18 metres before me. I have the speed of Edwards on the runway but my technique combines elements of the way both Harrison and Tamgho jump,” said the engaging young Cuban, speaking in Spanish and whose lack of English is perhaps one of the few impediments that could potentially prevent him becoming a global superstar transcending the sport in the way that Usain Bolt, Renaud Lavillenie and Mutaz Essa Barshim have done in recent years.
“I’m quick on the runway and take off well. I’ve got a good first phase but then my step and jump need some work,” added Pichardo, deconstructing his technique and giving a plausible reason why 18.30m doesn’t sound so outrageous on the right day.
He’s certainly far from the finished model as far as the triple jump is concerned.
Pichardo has good genes to be a top athlete, especially in an event requiring spring and poise. His father Jorge was a 2.10m high jumper and his mother Rosa Iris was a ballet dancer.
“My father was also a physical education teacher and (when he was young) I used to run and jump around on a nearby baseball field.
“At the age of 10 I was doing athletics and boxing but I only really showed any real talent in athletics. Later, in 2009, I started to specialise in the triple jump and that was the path that led to me winning at the 2012 World Junior Championships; that, obviously, was the turning point for everything.”
Last year, Pichardo started off in explosive fashion, jumping 17.76m in Havana in early February, having some indoor outings which culminated in him winning the bronze medal at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships and then reaching 17.71m to win the Cuban national title.
But a dispute with the Cuban federation over his choice of coach saw him unable to compete for six months from May to November last year.
However, with Osorio now mentoring him, the lack of competition during the summer of 2014 doesn’t seem to have hindered his progress and, perversely, may even have been a good thing at this early stage in his career in an event which can take a toll on the joints.
Athletics fans will now be eagerly following his every move to see whether he can get closer to, or perhaps even beyond, Edwards’ world record in the next few weeks.
His next confirmed competitions will be the Cuban Championships in Havana later this month, followed by appearances at the Rome and New York IAAF Diamond League meetings on 4 and 13 June respectively.
Last year was dubbed in many international media with an interest in athletics ‘The Year of the High Jump’.
However, with Taylor offering up a challenge to Pichardo, in much the same way Bogdan Bondarenko and Mutaz Essa Barshim have entranced an audience far beyond hardcore athletics aficionados, perhaps 2015 might end up being remembered as ‘The Year of the Triple Jump’ as the pair push each other into new territory.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF