2008 was an unforgettable year for Portugal’s Naide Gomes. Glory and disappointment joined hands. After the joy of winning the World Indoor title, Gomes missed the Olympic Long Jump final in Beijing, despite being the world season leader in the event.
After a national record of 7.04m in Stockholm on 24 July which she improved to 7.12m on 29 July in Monaco, most people thought Gomes would be the 2008 Olympic champion. Yet in the qualification round in Beijing she fouled her first two jumps (in the 7m+ region) and then produced only 6.29m on her third and final try, which was far off what was required to reach the final.
After the Olympics, the 28-year-old was back to winning ways in Lausanne and in the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, ending her season with that last success on 13 September.
Last month, when Gomes received the award from the sports’ journalists association of Portugal as the ‘best athlete of the year’, an honour she shared with Beijing Olympic Triathlon silver medallist Vanessa Fernandes, she finally opened her heart to the world.
“I have to face it (Beijing failure) as a life lesson,” confirmed Gomes. “I have worked so much and the things weren’t as good as we wanted. Nobody will die if I fail again to win an Olympic medal, but I want to work harder to achieve it (in 2012)!”
After the award ceremony Gomes went to Germany to have surgery to correct an abdominal hernia, and then back in Portugal she had treatment to an Achilles tendon. She is now recovering from both operations and will certainly miss the 2009 indoor season. The hernia had bothered Gomes on several occasions during the season, although not at the Olympics.
Her coach Abreu Matos said that Gomes should be able to start training in a few weeks time but they are going to be very cautious, and her programme will initially be a lot lighter than in previous years, and she will not compete until next summer.
Focused on 2012
Gomes revealed her goals have not changed.
“I think only of the World Championship in 2009,” Gomes reaffirmed. “I will prepare myself with a lot of determination and train as I did this year to be in good shape in Berlin.”
“But my main goal is still the Olympic medal. I will continue my pursuit for that. But I’m still focussed on another achievements especially bettering my performance. My coach has asked me for more than 7.20m and I agreed with that as my aim. I have to work on some technical details, improving my speed, strength, psychology, but if I continue the good work of last season I believe I can see myself flying far beyond 7.20m!”
From the trees of S. Tome to the jumps in Portugal
Born on the tiny island nation of São Tomé e Príncipe, Gomes had an active childhood on the rural equatorial island before moving to Lisbon at the age of eleven to rejoin her mother who had originally left for the Portuguese capital six years early to seek medical treatment.
Educated by her grandmother, Gomes developed her natural sporting skills and early on her school teachers engendered her love for athletics.
“At 13-years-old, a teacher showed me the way into athletics, but I lived many kilometres away from the track and I quit after only two weeks. But he tried again to encourage me, telling me that I could achieve great things and even start my professional career as a sports person.”
By age 17, Gomes was already among the best heptathletes in Portugal and at that point she joined the Sporting Club of Lisbon, where she met her current coach, Abreu Matos. She became a Portuguese citizen in 2001, and has achieved lots of medals for her country.
Three Games, three disciplines, two countries
Gomes has competed in three Olympic Games, in three different disciplines. In Sydney 2000, as a S. Tome citizen, she competed in the 100m Hurdles, and did not reach the final. Four years later, in Athens, for her new nation she took thirteenth place in the Heptathlon, and in 2008 has come the disappointment of the Long Jump in China.
Still there has been international success else where, with a silver medal at the 2002 European Indoor Championships in the Pentathlon and then a victory in the same discipline at the 2004 World Indoor Championships. However, a knee injury, in the following year, limited her ability to train effectively for the High Jump and Hurdles and thus ended her career as a multi-event athlete.
Naide returned to competition as a specialist long jumper and won the 2005 European Indoor gold medal in Madrid, and in 2006 she captured silver medals at both the European Championships in Gothenborg, as well as a member of Team Europe at the IAAF World Cup in Athens.
In 2007, she successfully defended her European Indoor title (6.89m), and in the summer set a national record of 7.01m, her first time beyond 7.00m, but later was only fourth at the World Championships in Osaka, missing the bronze medal by 3cm! And of course, 2008 marked her first World title, indoors in Valencia in a national record of 7.00m.
A quiet way of living
Living with her family, Gomes combines her training sessions with her education. She is studying physiotherapy, and is in her second year.
“Unfortunately it’s very difficult to do the two things; this season I skipped a year to focus on the Olympics, but I will finish my degree.”
The family home is her “support in all occasions, my quiet and resting corner.” Gomes likes to play volleyball, “not very competitively”, read books, and watches some films. She also listens to some music before competition, “to fight the stress and anxiety”, but generally loves to stay at home.
Gomes likes a favourite Portuguese meal, cod fish, and if she could would invite Nelson Mandela to dinner!
As a child she wanted to be a model or an air hostess. Her role models were Portuguese Mario Anibal (Portuguese Decathlon record holder) “for achieving great results with poor training conditions”, and USA’s Carl Lewis.
António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF