Argentina’s Alejandra García has dedicated almost all her life to Athletics winning Pan-Am and continental titles but reaching the final of the Olympic Games in Athens has so far been the highlight of her career.
A national celebration
For Argentina her Olympic feat was an historic event, followed live on television by millions of viewers around the country, and even though she finished in 13th place, the feeling of satisfaction for the 31-year-old born in Buenos Aires, was immense.
The only Argentineans to reach an Olympic final in the last 48 years had been Osvaldo Suárez, who was 9th in the Marathon at the 1960 Rome Games, and Antonio Silio, 18th in 10,000m in Barcelona 1992.
The last woman to be in a final was Isabel Avellán in the Discus Throw in Melbourne 1956, where she was 6th. That’s the last time the country placed someone in the top-8 at the Olympic level.
“In 2005 I will reach my 20th anniversary with Athletics, and advancing to the final in Athens feels like a great reward for all those years of sacrifice and hard work. One of my dreams, since I was a child, was to reach an Olympic final. Now, my next goal is to jump over 4.50 metres”, said the best female South American athlete of 2004.
“I started in the sport when I was 12, representing my school, “María Reina” from Martínez, a northern suburb of Buenos Aires. The next step was to train in a more formal way, so I started attending the National Centre of High Performance (now known as “Cenard”, and then called “Cedena”). For a while I trained as a sprinter with Daniel Leal, but I was often injured, so I decided to switch to a coach who prepared field events, and that’s when I met Eduardo Blanco.”
“Quique’, as we call him, was decisive in my physical and emotional formation, and he coached me from 1988 until 1998”.
“My first important competition at national level was in 1989 at the National Youth Championships, and I finished second at both the 100m Hurdles and the Pentathlon. In those years, my events were the 100m hurdles, the High Jump, and the Heptathlon, and in them I won my first international medals - two silvers - at the 1990 South American Junior Championships.”
“I married at a very young age, and I was a mother when I was just 18, but my son, Tomás, has been an extraordinary blessing. Later on, his father and I separated, but we have a great relationship.”
Atlanta frustration led to Pole Vault decision
“After my maternity in 1991, I came back to the sport, mostly dedicated to the High Jump, but I still mixed it up by competing at the Hurdles and the Heptathlon. In 1995 I took part in the Pan American Games, and scored my personal best of 5139 points, but later on that year, at the South American Championships, the Pole Vault was contested, and I won the event with a modest mark of 3.10m.”
“That was my second competition ever with the pole, after a previous one in Buenos Aires (3.00m on 27 November 1994), but it wasn’t at all my main event. In 1996, I focused again on the High Jump, and improved my personal best to 1.87m. That mark should have qualified me for the Atlanta Olympic Games, but I wasn’t chosen to go. I got very frustrated, retired for seven months, and once I returned I dedicated myself strictly to Pole Vaulting.”
“In 1998 I switched coaches to train with Fernando Pastoriza, a former high jumper and pole vaulter himself, with 2.25 and 5.10 personal bests. The focus of our preparation was the 1999 Pan American Games, and to win the gold medal in Winnipeg was something glorious.”
Since then, García has competed in all the main events, and her CV includes the 1999 IAAF World Championships (11th in 4.25), and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games (tied for 18th in the qualification with 4.15). By then, García had already improved her South American and national record some 28 times, to leave it at 4.42m.
In 2002, García won the Ibero-American Championships for the second time, and in 2003, after retaining the South American crown (she won it in 1995, 99, 01 and 03), García focused on the Pan-American Games, which took place in Santo Domingo.
Disappointment helps to set higher goals
“After a break, in 2002 I went back to train with Pastoriza. My preparation for the Sydney Games had been with Gennady Potapovich, a coach who has helped me a great deal in many aspects. For Santo Domingo in 2003, I was hoping to be back on the podium, but instead, I pulled a muscle 2 days before the final, and I couldn’t jump at all.”
“With that frustration in mind, we started to prepare for the 2004 season, and things went really well in the first part of the year. A new South American record of 4.43, in Santa Fe on 3 April was a great indication of that but after that, and seeing the chance of vaulting higher, I switched to different poles, a little harder model.”
“The period of adaptation was in Europe, and it was tough, but after jumping 4.30 at the Ibero-American’s in Huelva, my confidence was back”.
“I knew my chances to make it to the final in Athens were small, but that didn’t intimidate me at all. I had a great day, and I could have gone higher than 4.40, but once the judges told us that the finalists were set, I felt a tremendous emotion.”
Great vaulters such as US’s Stacy Dragila, Kellie Suttle or Germany’s Caroline Hingst were eliminated from the final, but García would be among those who advanced.
“So far, that has been the greatest reward after so many years in this sport. For many people it might be not such a big deal, but for us in Argentina and in South America, it is huge. Sometimes we train in very hard conditions, without basic elements, and that’s why those small triumphs taste so much sweeter.”
While in Europe, García and Pastoriza trains along with Vitaly Petrov, the man who coached Sergey Bubka. Petrov was recently in Argentina giving clinics to South American specialists.
“Petrov told me that I could go up to 4.60. That’s my next goal. I also want to redeem myself for not being able to jump in Santo Domingo, when the 2007 Pan-American Games arrive, but mostly, I want to be around for Beijing 2008, where I will be 35. That will be a great way to finish my career.”
Eduardo Biscayart for the IAAF
Alejandra García Flood
Born in Buenos Aires on 13 June 1973; 1.74m 60Kg.
Club: River Plate
Coach: Fernando Pastoriza
100m: 12.28 ‘00
200m: 25.82 ‘95
100mh: 13.84 ‘96
HJ: 1.87 ‘96
PV: 4.43 ‘04
LJ: 6.19 ‘95
TJ: 12.53 ‘95
Heptathlon: 5139 ‘95
Her top 10 performances
4.43 1 Santa Fe 03.04.2004
4.42 1 Sydney 20.02.2000
4.41 1 Buenos Aires 12.06.1999
4.40 1 Buenos Aires 13.05.2000
4.40 1 Rosario 14.04.2004
4.40 8qB OG Athens 21.08.2004
4.35 1 Buenos Aires 05.06.1999
4.35 1 Buenos Aires 15.04.2000
4.35 1 Mar del Plata 10.04.2004
4.35 1 Porto Alegre 01.05.2004