Yarisley Silva improves to 4.75m to claim an upset victory at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara (© Getty Images)
Yarisley Silva is still savouring her Olympic silver, the best performance by a Cuban athlete at the London Olympics, but she is already looking forward to new exciting challenges in 2013.
With that in mind, the 25-year-old trains Monday to Friday at Havana’s Estadio Panamericano under the guidance of her coach Alexander Navas.
“I had a good rest after a long year, which included my first indoor season, the Samsung Diamond League and the Olympics. London capped my best year so far and I would like to continue that success,” said Silva after her training.
Silva is currently in training for the indoor season as part of the first phase in her preparation for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. She plans to compete in four or five meets and aims at maintaining her competitive level.
“This will be my second indoor season and I will have less pressure than 2012 when we had the World Championships,” said Silva, who plans to make her season’s debut on February 2 in Karlsruhe. I love competing indoors and there is music too in some meets. It gave me a good base for the Olympics. I hope it will be the same in 2013.”
In training, she is joined by Olympian and 4.51m vaulter Dailis Caballero, who hopes to join her in the European tour this winter.
After a well-deserved month of holidays, Silva started her training for 2013 on October 15. “We are currently in physical conditioning and working on technical aspects, before focusing on the grip,” said Navas.
Reaping the rewards after years of hard work
While collecting the poles after her practice, Silva reflected on how her hard work paid off in London.
“Winning silver taught me the value of our daily sacrifice. I confirmed that with dedication, hard work and faith, we can succeed.
“I wanted it so badly,” she added of her expectations to win a medal. “I dreamed of it every day. It was a hard-fought battle with all other athletes, the cold weather and the head wind, but I felt confident and fought until the end.”
The silver in the British capital was the first medal for a Latin American pole vaulter in Olympic history.
Standing on the podium alongside Isinbayeva and Jenn Suhr was “a dream come true” for Silva. “Every athlete wants an Olympic medal. I am so proud to represent Cuba and win a medal in an event many thought almost impossible. It is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Truly sensational.”
After her performance in London, Silva’s confidence is sky high. “I now feel stronger and more confident because I proved to myself that when we set a goal, we can always overcome any obstacles along the way to achieve it,” she said.
It also proved that her fifth-place finish at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu was not a fluke.
Cuba now a vaulting force
With Lazaro Borges’ world silver in 2011 and her Olympic silver, Cuba has emerged a top contender in the Pole Vault, an area previously considered weaker on the Island among the field events.
“The talent is there; we just need the resources and the opportunities,” said Silva. “Lazaro and I had our first European tour in 2011 and we took advantage. You can only reach the top by competing against the world’s best.”
Asked about her chances in Moscow, Silva believes it will be a very exciting competition with World record-holder Yelena Isinbayeva competing on home soil.
“I finished fifth in Daegu and I want to improve to a medal in Moscow. It will be just as tough as London – or even tougher – but I am preparing to be ready for the challenge. With the crowd supporting Yelena and focusing on the Pole Vault, I believe that will help us all reach better results,” she stated.
Family background in athletics
The middle child of three siblings, Silva was born to Jesus Silva Ferrer, a military man and a recreational long-distance runner, and Magaly Rodriguez, a former Javelin thrower, in Pinar del Rio, Cuba’s westernmost province and known for its world-famous cigars.
Three aunts on her mother’s side practised athletics, including Maria de la Caridad Rodriguez, who introduced her to the sport when she was nine years old.
Silva did not know what the Pole Vault was when coach Nilo introduced her to the event at 13 years old. She liked it and cleared 2.40m on her first attempt. She improved to 2.50m for silver at the National School Games.
A year later, she cleared 3.10m to win gold at the National School Games and was promoted to the national junior team in Havana in 2002. Navas has guided her ever since.
In 2004, she set a Central American and Caribbean junior record at 4.00m and won gold at the National Games.
Still a junior, she took silver at the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena. Three weeks later, she travelled to Beijing for the World Junior Championships. “My poles did not arrive and I couldn’t do technical work before the competition,” she explained. “A Canadian athlete lent me one a day before the qualification and I did not clear any height.”
Following her junior career, Silva took women’s Pole Vault in Cuba to the next level at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, claiming the bronze – the first medal by a Cuban pole vaulter at the continental level.
In the process, she cleared 4.30m to erase her compatriot Katiuska Perez’s national and Area record of 4.25m, set in 2005.
In 2008, she achieved the Olympic standard and improved her Area record to 4.50m in her first competition of the year. But with no international meets, she remained low-key and only managed 4.15m in qualification at the Beijing Games.
“I was not prepared psychologically for a world-class competition, but seeing the world’s best up close for the first time was a great motivation to aim higher,” she recalled.
Breakthrough to world class
In the following two years, she did not have any competitive opportunities overseas. She remained in the 4.40-4.50m level, claiming the 2009 Central American and Caribbean title in Havana as the most important accomplishment.
One important factor changed in her breakthrough 2011: opportunities to compete against top vaulters finally came along. And she did not disappoint, improving her national record by 25cm. After finishing fifth in Daegu, she ended the season by beating Brazil’s 2011 World champion Fabiana Murer for the Pan American Games title with a national and Area record of 4.75m.
She equalled that height to claim silver in London, the No.1 highlight in her short and promising career.
She is now aiming at 4.80m, a height she has cleared in training. “My goal is to keep reaching higher clearances. Five meters is not impossible, but I would like to take every step at a time.”
In her limited spare time, Silva enjoys dancing and shopping, as well as visiting her family in Pinar del Rio twice a month from her training base in Havana. She expects to earn her Physical education degree in 2013.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF