Nelson Evora flies to triple jump gold (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 12 August 2009 – Berlin, Germany

Nelson Evora – ready to make history in Berlin?

Berlin, GermanyWorld and Olympic champion Nelson Evora is the natural favourite for defending his global title at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin. The Portuguese record holder is all set to become the first man ever to conquer two consecutive World gold medals in the men’s Triple Jump.

[Note: A version of this story originally appeared in The IAAF Magazine, Vol 24, No. 2, August 2009.]

Last summer, triple jumper Nelson Évora was the only Portuguese athlete to return home from Beijing with an Olympic gold medal to his name. At just 24 years of age (he is born on the 20th of April 1984), Évora now has both the Olympic and the World titles among his trophies, as he is reigning World champion since Osaka 2007. In addition, the young star, born in Ivory Coast and raised in Cape Verde, appears to have every chance of retaining his World title at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin later this summer.

Having considered the demands of the coming season, Évora decided not to compete in the European Indoor Championships, held in Turin, Italy, but to focus all his efforts on the 18th August, the day of the Berlin Triple Jump final. Évora is optimistic about this challenge, and spoke to us about his preparations for the World Championships: “After opting out of Turin, I decided to train hard so as to start the season with some good results. I am very pleased with how the year is going, as I have already jumped 17.66m in Brazil in May, which is the best start to a season I have ever had.”

The four athletes who stood beside him on the podiums in Osaka and Beijing are all very different. Does this mean he has no clear rival for Berlin? “To be honest, I am not too worried about my rivals; my main concern is to be 100% ready so that I am confident enough to win. I am very aware that my rivals, be they British, Cuban, Swedish, Brazilian, etc., are hoping to beat me of course, that’s logical.”

For Berlin this year, Évora is planning to repeat his success by emphasising speed. “The triple jump is a very complex event, and you always have to be trying to improve in every way, but just now I am working mainly on my speed, although strength must never be forgotten.”

When asked if his ideal outcome in Berlin would be winning the gold medal with a jump over 18 metres, he answers: “that would be fantastic, but my priority is to win the gold medal again - if the jump is over 18m, that would be a bonus.”

After Beijing, Évora will have to find new goals, one of which could be a triumph in the Long Jump in a major championship. He achieved a double when he was a junior, winning both disciplines in 2003 at the European Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland, with distances of 7.83m in the Long Jump and of 16.43m in the Triple Jump. In the seniors he came fourth in the Triple Jump (17.07m) and sixth in the Long Jump (7.91m) at the 2006 IAAF European Championships in Gothenburg. “I may try again in Berlin, although it will all depend on the schedules; failing that I will consider attempting the double at next year’s European Championships in Barcelona. It will depend on my physical condition, and above all, on avoiding injury.”

Évora began in athletics as a high jumper, but a knee injury forced him to change events when he was 15, concentrating on the Triple and Long Jump. After junior successes in both disciplines, he chose the triple jump over the long jump “just because I preferred it”.

Competitiveness is one of the outstanding virtues of this athlete. Standing 1.81m tall and weighing 70kg, he won gold at the IAAF World Championships in Osaka two years ago with his personal best of 17.74m, and in Beijing he won with a season best of 17.67m. “I certainly do see myself as a great competitor, and I am very well-balanced mentally, this is why I have a great deal of confidence when it truly counts.”

Évora’s life does not revolve exclusively around athletics and medals. He attends the University of Lisbon, where he studies marketing and advertising. “I found it hard at first to combine studying and training, but it’s easier now. The truth is I am really happy when studying, and I devote as much time to my studies as athletics allows, although it is not as much as I would like. However, with some sacrifices, the two things can be combined.”

After competing in the High Jump - an event in which he has achieved 2.07m, with a PR of 8.10m in the long jump, and of course his feats in the triple jump, all that remains for Évora to be labelled a ‘complete jumper’ is to try his hand at pole vaulting. He laughs when this is put to him. “I have tried it, but didn’t like it very much, so I gave it up.”

Évora’s success has not gone unnoticed, and the Portuguese champion has been invited several times to go and train in the United States, but has always refused.

“I am very happy in Portugal. I was born in Ivory Coast, but I settled in Portugal with my family when I was just five years old, and I am with my own people here, which is the most important thing for me. I have a great mentor in Joan Ganço, with whom I have been training since I was seven years old; it is he who discovered me as an athlete, so I feel no need to go to the United States in order to reach a high standard in athletics and win.”

Overall, Évora made spectacular progress between 2005 and 2007: at the World Championships in Helsinki, still only 21, he missed being in the final by scarcely six centimetres, while two years later, in one fell swoop, he reached the final, and stood on the top step of the podium; what is more, the new champion swept aside all competition to lead the field from the first round, reaching 17.74m on his third attempt, beating his own Portuguese record by 23 centimetres!

“I was delighted to win in Osaka, since obviously every athlete dreams of being world champion; this gold medal confirmed me as an athlete and gave me the motivation I needed to believe I could also be Olympic champion. To be honest, I knew I could win a medal, because I had the fourth best performance amongst the finalists, but I never thought I would win.”

Last summer Évora, who took Portuguese nationality in 2002, showed that his performance in Osaka was not just a lucky one-off, and after acting as the Portuguese flag bearer in the opening ceremony, he won the Olympic title in Beijing with a jump of 17.67m after an incredibly tight competition. The British jumper Phillips Idowu won the silver with 17.62m and the Bahamian Leevan Sands finished third with 17.59m, the longest jump for a bronze medal in the history of the Olympic Games. 

Comparing his two great successes, Évora also commented that “both gold medals are unforgettable for me, although to be proclaimed Olympic champion is the pinnacle of every athlete's career.”

Strangely, Évora has never won a major European medal, something he hopes to address in 2010. “I am a placid person, moving on little by little; I have very clear objectives and am intent on not injuring myself. Of course, I would really like to achieve a ‘hat trick’ of medals with a European title in Barcelona in 2010!”

Judging by results – he finished sixth at the World Indoor Championships in Moscow in 2006 and won bronze in Valencia last year - it may be thought that he is not a fan of competing indoors, but he says nothing could be further from the truth. “The simple fact is that is that there is no covered facility near where I live in Portugal. Even so, I would like to train one year for a major indoor championship.”

Évora is aware that triple jumpers commonly suffer many injuries, but he does everything he can to avoid them.  “In our event we have to be very careful, and I spend a great deal of time doing physiotherapy, essential both to avert injuries and to recover from them.”

Évora, who lives in Lisbon, mentions his main hobbies as “music, films and studying” and names the record-breaking Briton Jonathan Edwards as his all-time idol. “He has always been my reference point and motivates me to keep achieving my goals.” When it comes to  Edwards’ World record, he comments: “I am still a long way from his jump of 18.29m - at the moment, my aim is to break the 18m barrier; what’s more, records come when you least expect them.”

What Évora may not know is that in Berlin he could surpass the achievement of his lifelong idol. If he does win gold there, Évora will become the first triple jumper in the history of the IAAF World Championships to retain his title and he would equal the two gold medals Edwards won in 1995 and 2001.

Certainly, one of the reasons why Évora wants to win gold again in Berlin is that it is his hero Edwards who would place the medal round his neck, just as he did in Osaka.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF