Feature09 Aug 2017

Peinado defies predictions to make Venezuelan history


Robeilys Peinado in the pole vault at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)

Every IAAF World Championships produces a few medallists who rise to the occasion but can genuinely be called a surprise to be seen climbing the podium.

When one looks back at this edition in London one of the names that will doubtless fit into this category, regardless of what the future holds, will be the Venezuelan pole vaulter Robeilys Peinado.

In truth, she was on almost nobody’s radar to be among the medallists.

On pre-championships form, she was outside the top 10 on the 2017 world list and even the astute and respected US publication Track and Field News didn’t have her in their top 10 predictions for the event.

However, come the evening of 6 August, with more favoured women struggling to find their best form, Peinado equalled her national record of 4.65m on her second attempt at that height and subsequently clinched a share of third place alongside Cuba’s 2015 world champion Yarisley Silva.

Not celebrating her 20th birthday until November, into the bargain Peinado will go into the record books as the youngest ever women’s pole vault medallist, and finalist as well.

In addition, she wrote her name into her country’s sporting history by being the first Venezuelan to get a medal at the IAAF World Championships.

Notwithstanding, the fact that the following night triple jumper Yulimar Rojas got gold in her specialist event – giving rise to a few wry comments derived from an old joke about London buses, you wait for ages for one medal to come then two arrive almost simultaneously – Peinado will always be remembered and revered as the first.

Teenage talent

Peinado has had a fine track record during her teenage years.

She was the 2013 world youth champion, owns a share of the world age-14 and 15 bests as well as the holding the world age-best outdoor marks for a 17 and 18-year-old.

She also won the silver medal last summer at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

However, a knowledge of the events of the last 12 months means that it was something of a surprise that Peinado was competing in London at all, let alone taking a medal.

In Rio, ahead of the Olympic Games last summer and during her final training session before the competition, she broke a pole while attempting a jump and the shards sliced through her left hand between her thumb and forefinger.

There were initial fears that there had been nerve damage and doctors warned her and her coach Wiaczesław Kaliniczenko – best known as the former coach of both Monika Pyrek and Piotr Lisek – that she might not regain the full use of her hand and that her grip might be impaired.

Fortunately, the worst-case scenario did not come to pass but she hardly did any training during the winter, not vaulting at all until February this year, and it was only then that she returned to the Polish city of Szczecin, where Kaliniczenko is based with his multi-national group and where she has spent much of her time since 2015, before getting back into serious training.

Progress was quick though once she was competing again.

Back at the top

At the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Sweden on 18 June she finally added five centimetres to her national record which had stood since 2015 when she cleared 4.65m.

It was a height she equalled in London, where her second attempt at 4.75m suggested that she would soon be adding to her national record.

"To equal my personal best and national record, I am very satisfied with that alone, but I am super-happy to have been in this final and to come out with a medal," she said. "I would have never thought that I will take a medal here in London after the disaster in Rio.

"To be honest, I originally thought I was fourth right the way through to the end of the competition [after gold medallist Ekaterini Stefanidi had finally finished competing]. I was so concentrated on what I was doing that I had lost track of what Yarisley had been doing and I thought she had got over 4.65m on her first attempt and was ahead of me.

"But then my coach called me over and handed me the Venezuelan flag. I said ‘Are you sure?’ but he told me to look at the big screen and the result was up there!"

Peinado is apparently a popular, if slightly exotic, figure in Szczecin.

The Polish media, especially in the absence of any women’s pole vault medals of their own on this occasion despite their abundant heritage, have adopted her as one of their own and the online headline of one newspaper on Monday read: A Venezuelan medal minted in Poland.

"I believe that going to live and train in Europe was the right step for me to take. I train in Poland and everyone knows Poland is a cold country but this does not matter anymore," joked the Caracas native, well aware that having an IAAF World Championships medal in her collection has a warming feeling.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF

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