After a somewhat sluggish start – and even a rare early season loss – Caterine Ibarguen's quest to become the first three-time world triple jump champion appears to be back on track as the IAAF World Championships London 2017 approach. But she'll also be up against the strongest challenge she's faced since taking the reins in the event.
The Colombian, now 33, has been the class of the triple jump since taking Olympic silver at the London Stadium in 2012, building during that time a 34-meeting win streak that lasted until early June 2016. She sailed to fifth place on the world all-time list for the event at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco in 2014 with a 15.31m leap. She achieved her Olympic triumph in Rio last year with a 15.17m leap, the second best of her career. In short, she's become nearly as synonymous with the event as her male counterpart Christian Taylor, himself a two-time world champion.
A strong rival didn't appear until early 2016 when Yulimar Rojas from neighbouring Venezuela emerged on the nearby horizon, a 21-year-old who jumped to world indoor gold in Portland and into the 15-metre club with a 15.02m leap in Madrid later that year. The pair waged a strong battle in Rio where Ibarguen prevailed, pushed by Rojas throughout who was forced to settle for silver with 14.98m.
At Rome's Golden Gala IAAF Diamond League meeting, their first face-off this year, Rojas got the better of her rival, reaching 14.84m to win by six centimetres. That jump came just six days after a 14.96m effort in Andujar, Spain, Rojas's third best ever and still the farthest in the world this year.
The two met again in Monaco on 21 July, producing almost identical numbers but with Ibarguen winning 14.86m to 14.83m. How competitive are they? Both of their best leaps of the night came in the sixth round. Nothing short of that is expected in London.
No one else this year has reached the same level, suggesting a wide open battle for bronze, led by Olga Rypakova, who comes armed with strong credentials, albeit from an earlier period of her career.
The Kazakh won the 2012 Olympic title, jumped to world silver in 2011 and bronze in 2015 before a return engagement to the Olympic podium last year where she finished third. A member of the 15-metre club since 2010 when she flew to 15.25m to take the Continental Cup title, she's reached a more modest 14.64m season's best this season to arrive in London third on the world list.
Others in the hunt include Nubia Soares of Brazil, who reached a 14.56m career best this season; Jamaican champion Kimberly Williams, a finalist at the past two Olympic Games and World Championships, who'll land in London with 14.54m season's best; and 21-year-old Liadagmis Povea, the latest from Cuba's triple jump assembly line, the 2014 world U20 silver medallist with a 14.45m season's best.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF