Chile is not a name which instantly springs to mind when thinking of track and field success but Natalia Duco may be about to change that after taking an uplifting shot put gold to secure her country’s first ever gold medal at a global athletics championships.
Indeed, such was the interest in her progress, after she led Wednesday’s qualifiers, popular Chilean daily newspaper La Tercera screened a live webcast of Duco’s final.
The Chilean powerhouse with the dazzling smile dominated the competition from the outset. Her first round throw of 17.23m was enough to claim victory by a decisive 0.63 and she also produced the three longest throws of the competition all beyond 17m.
“I feel very good for winning,” said Duco, who set an Area national junior record of 18.65m in Iquique last month. “I really wanted to win even though I was some way short of my best. I now have very big hopes for the Olympics in Beijing next month.”
Born in the rural village of San Felipe near the capital of Santiago, a former IAAF World Junior Championships host city, Duco comes from a sporting stock. Her father was a keen rugby player and her mother a volleyballer and the teenager recalls playing tennis, volleyball and regularly skiing during the winter months when she was a youngster.
Cuban winning mentality
The Chilean youngster also showed early promise in the shot but it was only when Cuba’s former Olympic javelin thrower Dulce Garcia arrived on holiday in Duco’s homeland did her career start to flourish.
“She came to Chile and started to coach a group of 20 youngsters,” she added. “I started training with her aged 14 and now I am the only one left in the group. What she has given me is a winning Cuban mentality. People often ask why Chile finally starts to win and they say it must be because of a Cuban. Much of the athletics success in South America has a Cuban behind it.”
Garcia, who finished eighth in the 1992 Olympic javelin final, has steadily moulded Duco into a formidable competitor.
She finished fourth at the 2005 World Youth Championships in Morocco as a 16-year-old and the following year placed 12th in her first appearance at the World Junior Championships in Beijing.
Last year she won the South American and Pan-American junior titles and this year has made huge breakthrough, claiming an area junior record of 18.65 in Iquique in June to climb to No.2 in the world juniors lists.
Duco, who trains full-time and spends three months each year training with her coach in Cuba, believes her progression has been no great secret.
“It is about hard work and having the right mentality,” she explained.
The next big challenge comes next month at the Beijing Olympics. But what does she think is possible in China?
“I hope to finish in the top 12 and come close to my PB of 18.65m because the automatic qualification is 18.50m,” she explained.
Steve Landells for the IAAF