Feature02 Dec 2014

Rypakova once again ready to challenge for global titles


Olga Rypakova celebrates winning the 2014 Asian Games triple jump title (© Getty Images)

Olympic triple jump champion Olga Rypakova may have turned 30 just a few days ago, but she says there are still lots of things left to accomplish.

Winning her first outdoor world title and successfully defending her Olympic title are among those.

The Kazakh athlete returned to competition earlier in 2014, having missed 2013 to give birth to her second child, Kirill. She jumped right in at the deep end, making her seasonal debut at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham in late August, and surprised herself by leaping 14.37m to finish second, beaten only by world champion Caterine Ibarguen.

“In my situation, it was difficult to guess how far I’d jump,” she told Kazakh news site Caravan.kz. “I was hoping to jump up to 14 metres, but everything turned out well and I was even more pleased with the result.”

Her short 2014 campaign reached a climax at the Asian Games in Inchon, where she successfully defended her title with a jump of 14.32m.

Rypakova was back to her medal-winning ways.

From long to triple, via combined events

Despite being an Olympic and former world indoor champion, Rypakova is still a relative newcomer to the triple jump.

Daughter of former 7800 decathlete Sergey Alekseyev, Rypakova started out by doing the long jump, but then switched to combined events while still a teenager and took the heptathlon silver medal at the 2002 IAAF World Junior Championships.

But after winning the national indoor long jump and pentathlon titles at the age of 19 during the 2004 indoor season, she discovered that she was pregnant. Athletics – in particular the Athens Olympics – was no longer the priority while she took a break to give birth to her daughter Anastasia, who was born in September that year.

Little more than eight months later, Rypakova was back on the runway and set a long jump OB of 6.60m. A relatively low-key 2005 season was followed by a busy 2006 campaign in which she won the Asian indoor pentathlon title with an Asian indoor record of 4582, as well as the Asian Games heptathlon crown, having set a PB of 6113 earlier in the year.

But despite her success, Rypakova felt she no longer had the energy to compete in combined events. “We had made great progress in jumping and sprinting events, but my throwing results were very slow to improve,” she said. “It was time to say goodbye to combined events.”

At the 2007 national championships, having won the long jump with 6.57m, Rypakova was asked by her coaches to compete in the triple jump, simply to gain a few extra points in the team competition. Despite the rain and cold conditions, Rypakova jumped 14.05m off a nine-stride approach.

Quite by accident, she had discovered her new event.

Three weeks later a similar scenario played out at the Asian Championships. After winning the long jump title, Rypakova discovered her name on the start-list for the triple jump. She initially thought it was a mistake, but the team coaches asked her to jump, so she did. She ended up winning gold with a national record of 14.69m.

By 2008, the triple jump had become her main event. She finished fourth at both the World Indoor Championships and Olympic Games that year, setting indoor (14.58m) and outdoor (15.11m) Asian records.

While most athletes are disappointed to miss out on a medal by one place, Rypakova was simply excited by her potential. Already she was thinking about the 2012 Olympics.

Rypakova’s breakthrough year came in 2010. She won all of her indoor competitions, culminating with the world indoor title with a winning leap of 15.14m to break her own Asian indoor record. And it ended with an outdoor Asian record of 15.25m to win the Continental Cup, followed a couple of months later by another Asian Games title.

She picked up silver medals at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 World Indoor Championships, but everything was still on track for the Olympic Games, and in London she duly delivered, winning gold with a leap of 14.98m.

Rypakova become just the second person from Kazakhstan to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics, following her namesake and idol Olga Shishigina, the 2000 Olympic 100m hurdles champion.

And, just like Shishigina, Rypakova instantly became a national icon.

New responsibilities

As if being a parent of two while juggling a career as an elite athlete isn’t challenging enough, Rypakova found after 2012 that her Olympic crown came with some additional responsibilities.

“Sometimes there are small disturbances,” she says. “For example, sometimes people want my autograph or ask to be photographed. The attention is nice, but it is sometimes difficult to focus on training.

“After the Olympics, I didn’t have much time for my family as I was travelling across Kazakhstan to various post-Olympic events. My daughter said to me, ‘Mom, maybe it would have been better if you finished second or third’.”

But thankfully things have now calmed down for Rypakova, who recently opened a new athletics track in her home town of Ust-Kamenogorsk. Her mother takes care of her young son while Rypakova trains, allowing her to focus on her preparations for the 2015 season.

“I don’t yet have a clear plan, but the basic outline includes some Diamond League meetings and then the World Championships in Beijing,” Rypakova said of the 2015 season.

“My ultimate goal is to go to Rio and, if possible, defend my Olympic title. But for now I’m not looking beyond 2016.”

If she is to succeed in Beijing or Rio, it would mean bringing an end to Ibarguen’s two-year winning streak. The Colombian also rocketed up the world all-time list in 2014 with her leap of 15.31m making her the fifth-best triple jumper ever, and sparking talk of a possible world record in the near future.

“Some athletes have already got quite close to it,” said Rypakova of Inessa Kravets’s 15.50m mark from 1995. “Sometimes you might feel ready to jump a world record, but then something doesn’t work. Everything must be in place: luck, form, health. Maybe next year someone will be lucky enough to break it.”

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF