Irving Saladino of Panama wins the Long Jump at the Seville GP (Juanjo Ubeda) © Copyright
General News

Saladino – with the determination and backing to become a champion

Panama has been a country relatively absent from the main global athletics stage in the past 20 years or so, but all of a sudden, this Central American nation that competes under the orbit of the South American Confederation, has 2 athletes in the top-10 of their events in the IAAF World Rankings. One of them is Bayano Kamani at 400m Hurdles, and the other is long jumper Irving Saladino.

Born and breed a Panamanian 

Kamani, who was seventh at the Helsinki World Championships, was born in the United States from a Panamanian father and a  Barbadian mother and feels 100 percent Panamanian, but Saladino, who finished sixth in Helsinki, couldn’t be more Panamanian.

“I was born in Colón, which is 1 hour away from the capital, Ciudad de Panamá. My brother and my parents guided me to athletics, especially my older brother, David, who was also an athlete. He is the main reason why I decided to practice this sport.”

“My beginnings were somehow difficult. In Panama we don’t have the necessary resources to practice a high performance sport, and develop in it. The demands to be a top athlete are high, and we lack the support for essential needs and also accessory ones, like nutrition, etc. Those are very important indeed, and make a great difference at the end.”

“I feel that that’s somehow changing now, little by little, but the athletes need more support to be better. That will make a difference for those who will choose this path. I will be very important that those kids can see a future for themselves in athletics.”

Track wins over baseball

“Panama is a country that loves baseball. One of our great sports heroes is Mariano Rivera, the closing pitcher of the New York Yankees, arguably the best team in America. Once I was very close to become a baseball player myself, since I was spotted at a sports field by some scouts of mayor league teams. I was a good centerfielder with great speed, but I loved the track so much, that I decided to go back to it.”

“Florencio Aguilar, my first coach and a former sprinter himself (pb of 10.48 ‘83/10.45w ‘89/ 10.2 ’82 at 100m and 20.6A ’84 at 200m) saw some conditions of long jumper in me, and that’s how I became one.”

“After I finished my high school, my family sent me to the United States to live with my aunt, and I was very close to stay and continue my life there. She lives in Manhattan. That was the first experience of my life outside of Panama, and a very interesting one.”

An Olympic dream

“Qualifying for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, has been crucial for my growth as an athlete. In Athens I made a dream of a lifetime come through. Being an Olympian means a lot for those who practice any sport, and I must admit that it was huge for me.”

“My result was not the best (a 7.42m jump in the qualifying round), but it gave me the determination to keep training and improving, to one day become an Olympic medallist myself.”

Training base in Brazil is key to improvement

“Before those games, I had jump 8.12m in Bogotá at high altitude, and by then I had received an offer from the South American Confederation to go to Brazil and train and develop myself there. The offer came soon before Athens, so we decided to wait until the end of 2004 to make that move.”

“That’s when I end up going to São Paulo, to train under the guidance of Nélio Alfano Moura. Nélio has been fundamental in my growth as a long jumper. For that, I have great respect and appreciation for him. I also give a lot of credit to Florencio Aguilar. In Brazil I learnt lots of important things, and made crucial changes in my technique. At the end, that ended out bringing me to the top level in the world.”

“In São Paulo I was able to find a more developed environment, with lots of clubs and support, and that, certainly helped me to be better prepared, both technically and physically. I believe that has been the key for my improvement in 2005.”

“Even though I am in a different country and I miss my family and my things, I have been able to find lots of good people in São Paulo that make my days go better. Now I share an apartment with another long jumper, Louis Tristán, from Peru, who’s one year younger than me, and has a 7.79m personal best. He has lots of talent, and I hope he realises it, because he could be over 8m very soon if he trains with the required passion.”

Wind aided 8.51m and a Helsinki finalist

“I can’t complain at all about my results in 2005, which has been a great year. I was able to achieve a wind-aided 8.51m jump, but most importantly, I was very consistent. That gave me lots of confidence”

“From all my results and competitions of the year, I have to pick the World Championships. It was great to advance to the final, where I faced the best jumpers in the world. Beforehand I had some doubts, since I had got injured in Europe in June, and that injury put in jeopardy my participation in Helsinki, but it felt definitely great to be in the top-8”

“I believe that if I hadn’t picked up that injury, I would have been able to fight for a medal, but overall, I can’t complain, because it was great experience, and I was very proud of my sixth place.”

“Now, I see the future with a great deal of optimism. I have a great coach, the right support, and more maturity. So, my goal is to keep going further in 2006, to target a medal at the 2007 IAAF World Championships, and maybe go for the gold in Beijing.”

“I know it’s going to be hard, but don’t count me out.”

Eduardo Biscayart for the IAAF

Stats -

Irving Saladino
Born in Ciudad de Colón, 23 January 1983. 1.76m, 70k.
Coached by Nélio Moura.

Progression at LJ
2002: 7.51A/7.39; 2003: 7.46; 2004: 8.12A/7.74; 2005: 8.29/8.51w

Top 10 performances
8.29 0.0 1 GP Sevilla 04.06.05
8.26 0.3 1 Guaita Santiago de Chile 08.05.05
8.18 0.3 -  São Paulo 02.04.05
8.12 A 1.9 1  Bogotá 10.07.04
8.12 0.2 1  Huelva 07.06.05
8.12 0.4 - WC Helsinki 13.08.05
8.10 0.5 1  São Paulo 02.03.05
7.98 1.5 7qB WC Helsinki 12.08.05
7.93 -0.8 1  San Fernando 06.05.05
7.85 A 0.9 1  Bogotá 12.06.04
Wind aided results
8.51 2.3 1  São Paulo 02.04.05
8.20 2.8 6 WC Helsinki 13.08.05
8.14 2.3 1  São Paulo 05.03.05