Yago Lamela in action in the men's long jump final at the 1999 IAAF World Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Lamela leaps into Spanish headlines

When British long jumper Mary Rand returned from the 1964 Olympics, Queen Elizabeth II marked out her world record winning distance of 6.76m on a floor in Buckingham Palace and was reputed to have exclaimed that it was not possible for someone to jump so far.

Spain’s Yago Lamela has yet to visit his monarch Juan Carlos I – although that honour may be coming soon – but instead the 1999 world indoor silver medallist has been crowned the "King of the Long Jump" by the Spanish media after his European indoor record of 8.56m in Maebashi.

The Spanish sports daily Marca, Spain’s biggest selling newspaper of any description, invited the 21-year-old from Aviles in the northern province of Asturias into its offices within a few days of his return to Spain. Helping hands laid 22 copies of its paper end-to-end – the same distance as Lamela’s giant leap – and the reaction of the newspaper’s journalists and photographers was similar to that of Queen Elizabeth.

However it is not only the media men who found it hard to credit Lamela’s achievement. The athlete himself is still coming to terms with it.

"I never thought that I could ever jump such a distance," Lamela said. "I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming. All I hoped for was a Spanish record, I never imagined I’d go beyond 8.30."

Having started the competition with a personal best of 8.22m, set in the Madrid indoor invitational meeting in February, in the third round he improved his own national indoor record to 8.29m. One round later he flew out to 8.42m and then in the sixth and final round he topped it all with 8.56m, an improvement of seven centimetres on the 12-year-old former European record of Armenia’s Robert Emmiyan.

A gold medal looked to be on its way to Spain until Cuba’s Ivan Pedroso dug deep and found 8.62m with his last-gasp effort, the final word after an enthralling chapter in long jumping history.

"I thought that the gold medal was in the bag," said Lamela. "But Pedroso is a great competitor so I shouldn’t have been too surprised that he could find a big jump and beat me."

Pedroso also had plaudits for his rival, acknowledging that Lamela was now a force to be reckoned with on the long jump runway.

"He came up to me afterwards and said ‘the next time we compete together I am definitely going to have to watch out for you'." Lamela joked.

There are plans afoot to bring the pair together again in a special long jump competition during halftime of the Spain-Croatia soccer match, which will inaugurate the new Seville Olympic stadium on May 5. However if that does not work out, being too early in the summer for many competitors, then the duo will certainly do battle again at the same venue when it hosts the World Championships in August.

Lamela hopes that with the home crowd behind him he can get his revenge over Pedroso. "Pedroso is a great jumper but he's not unbeatable. I am certainly not ruling out the possibility of winning in Seville."

Having jumped 5.91m as a 13-year-old in 1991 Lamela has improved every year since. He exceeded six metres the following year, went over seven metres for the first time as a 16-year-old in 1994 and last year made his first jump over eight metres. Is nine metres now imminent – or at least an improvement on Mike Powell’s eight-year-old world record of 8.95m set during the titanic duel with Carl Lewis at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo?

"Why not," said Lamela. "It’s a distant dream but I know I can improve in all aspects of technique." He is already ahead of what both Powell and Pedroso achieved at the same age, although Lewis was a little more precocious. And it is Lewis rather than Powell or Pedroso to whom Lamela looks for inspiration. "I always wanted to be like Lewis," said Lamela, who has a poster of the multiple Olympic and world champion on his bedroom wall.

His coach Juan Jose Azpeitia believes though that it may take a year or two more for Lamela to add a world record to his European one, or to get on equal terms with his idol.

"I think the medals (in Seville) will be won between 8.50m and 8.60m," his coach added.

Lamela’s talents do not exist solely at the long jump though. He is currently combining top-flight athletics with his studies at University in Gijon, where he is taking a computer science degree. He is also looking to soon show the world his ability as a triple jumper, his first sporting love, as well as showing considerable ability as a junior soccer player. Last year Lamela set a Spanish under-23 record of 16.72m and he ranks fifth on the Spanish all-time list.

"I continue to think about the triple jump, and I know I can produce some big marks. For the moment, all I am going to do is think about the event, but perhaps after two or three years I will return to it."

Perhaps before long it will not only be Ivan Pedroso but his compatriot Yoelbi Quesada, along with Jonathan Edwards and Kenny Harrison, who will have to look out for Lamela.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF