Dailenys Alcántara is probably one of the most talented triple jumpers ever to come out of Cuba – and that is saying something, given that the country has produced so many leading athletes in the event over the past few decades.
But, along with natural talent, Alcántara also has the drive and determination to be one of the best in the world.
She may not have been blessed with the height and long legs of some of her rivals, but that did not stop Alcántara at last year's IAAF World Youth Championships. The youngest and shortest in the field, Alcántara led a Cuban 1-2 in the triple jump, winning gold with 13.63m with her compatriot and training partner Josleidy Ribalta taking silver some 31 centimetres behind.
Earlier that season, Alcántara had set a world age-15 best of 14.21m in the triple jump – a staggering performance in an event where even the most talented athletes usually take years to mature and progress to that kind of level. It was also better than the previous world age-16 best on record (13.82m) and her sterling performances in 2007 led to Alcántara winning the 2007 Central American and Caribbean junior athlete of the year award.
Background in long jump
Although she has been involved in athletics since the age of eight, Alcántara has only been focusing on the triple jump for less than two years. Trained in Havana by former 8.22m long jumper David Giralt – father of world indoor triple jump silver medallist Arnie David Giralt –Alcántara started out as a long jumper (she has a best of 6.16m) before her coach saw her triple jumping potential.
Alcántara hails from Santiago in Cuba, which is also the home city of Mabel Gay and Giralt. Gay made the transition from World youth champion to World junior champion, and Alcántara – who, along with Ribalta, was last week announced in the Cuban team for the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz – hopes to do the same.
And even if Alcántara does not succeed in Bydgoszcz this year, the 16-year-old will still be young enough to compete in the next IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada in 2010.
Room for big improvement
Alcántara, however, feels she is ready to jump even further than she did in 2007. "There's certainly a lot more to come," she said. "There's room for dramatic improvement in my technique and I think I can also improve my run-up and hop phase."
She opened her 2008 season last weekend in Havana and produced a very encouraging 14.11m leap, showing that she has wintered well. Alcántara now sits at the top of the World junior and World youth triple jump rankings for this year so far.
Eventually she hopes to match the feats of Yargelis Savigne, World champion indoors and out – an athlete who has provided much inspiration for Alcántara.
"I look up to Yargelis Savigne a lot," said Alcántara. "She's a good friend of mine and I've been lucky enough to do some training sessions with her."
Alcántara also hopes to be on the same team as Savigne for this year's Olympic Games in Beijing. Should she succeed in qualifying, she will be the youngest athlete by far ever to compete in the women's triple jump at the Olympics – but that does not deter Alcántara.
"My coach feels I can jump 14.30m to qualify for the Beijing Olympics," she said. "I'm confident I can do it, too."
"I want to win an Olympic title," she added of her ultimate goal in athletics, blissfully unaware – up until now – where the following Games are being held. "I didn't know the 2012 Olympics were being held in London, but I'd like to win there too!"
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF