When Facebook makes friend suggestions, it usually recommends complete strangers or people from your past that you’d rather not reconnect with.
Sporting legends, however, rarely pop up as a friend suggestion on the social network.
So when Ivan Pedroso’s profile picture appeared on Yulimar Rojas’s Facebook feed alongside the question, ‘Add Friend?’ back in 2015, Rojas didn’t hesitate.
She clicked the button and waited. Soon after, the 10-time global long jump champion accepted her request.
“I dared to contact him and told him how much I admired him and that I dreamed of training with him,” recalls Rojas. “He said he had followed my career and believed I had a great talent.”
Rojas relocated to Guadalajara in Spain in November 2015 to be coached by Pedroso. Since then, Rojas has gone on to win four world titles – two outdoors and two indoors – and earn an Olympic silver medal.
A couple of hours before bounding out to a world indoor triple jump record of 15.43m at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Madrid on Friday (21), Rojas had another conversation with Pedroso that will likely stick with her for the duration of her career.
“Before the competition, Ivan told me, ‘today is your day, don't miss this chance, the only thing you have to do is remain calm and focused and you'll jump far’.”
Once again, Rojas lived up to her coach’s expectations.
An opening-round foul that landed at about the 15-metre mark showed that Rojas was in form to do something special. She got a valid mark on the board in round two with 14.65m – a jump that would have ultimately been enough to win. But Rojas wasn’t there to simply win; she wanted to jump far.
Another foul followed, but then she sailed out to 15.29m in the fourth round, producing the second-best indoor performance in history. There were still two more rounds to go, though; two more chances for Rojas to get her name in the record books.
She fouled again in round five, her post-jump expressions telling the packed-out Polideportivo Gallur arena all they needed to know about her feelings at that precise moment.
One more jump left; her coach’s words – “Don’t miss this chance” – echoed in her mind. “Remain calm and focused.”
She did exactly that. Commanding the attention of the arena by initiating a rhythmic clap, she powered down the runway, hit the board perfectly, and landed in the sand at a point that appeared farther than her fourth-round mark.
There was a brief pause as the measuring device calculated the distance. Moments later the figures flashed up on the board – 15.43m, a world record by seven centimetres and the second-best jump ever, bettered only by the outdoor world record of 15.50m.
“I felt great during the warm-up,” Rojas said. “Then I opened with a foul of more than 15 metres and it was a strong confidence booster. In the following rounds I tried to adjust some technical aspects, then when I managed 15.29m so easily in the fourth round, I thought the record was definitely in my legs.
“As was the case in Andujar last September (when she jumped 15.41m, her outdoor PB), my best jump came in the final round,” she added. “That’s great.
“I’m over the moon. I can’t believe I’m the world record-holder. I want to get home and cry; I need to cry to release the adrenaline I have right now.”
Home from home
If ever Rojas was going to break a world record, there was a strong chance that it would be in Madrid.
Since relocating to Guadalajara at the end of 2015, Rojas has frequently made the one-hour journey from her training base to the Spanish capital.
It was where she made her indoor debut in 2016, following it one week later with an outright PB of 14.69m. She returned to Madrid during the outdoor season and produced the first 15-metre jump of her career.
Further indoor PB performances in Madrid followed with 14.79m in 2017 and 14.92m in 2019. So when she improved her indoor best to 15.03m in Metz earlier this month, it somehow just didn’t feel right that she’d end her indoor campaign with a season’s best set somewhere other than Madrid.
Not only did she put that right at the World Athletics Indoor Tour final, she also provided the Polideportivo Gallur arena its first ever world record performance, a gift of sorts for the city that has hosted so many memorable moments for Rojas.
It is the latest piece of history Rojas has made in her ever-growing list of achievements.
She is Venezuela’s first ever – and only – world champion, and the nation’s only world indoor champion. In 2016 she became the first Venezuelan woman to win an Olympic medal in athletics. And now she is the first Venezuelan woman to hold a world record and the first South American athlete to set a world indoor record.
Eyes on the prize
Although clearly delighted to break the world indoor record, Rojas insists her biggest goal for 2020 is to perform well at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where she’ll be aiming to become the first Venezuelan woman in any sport to win an Olympic title.
She had been hoping to win a third successive world indoor crown, but that will have to be put on hold until 2021 after this year’s World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing were postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Of course, it’s a shame the World Indoor Championships have been postponed as I was aiming for my third world title,” she says. “But I completely understand everyone’s health is a priority.
“Anyway, the Tokyo Olympics are my main goal this season and I'll remain focused to do my best there.”
As has been the case at the past three outdoor global championships, the Olympic final in Tokyo looks set to be another enthralling clash between Rojas and Colombia’s two-time world champion Caterine Ibarguen, who claimed Olympic gold in Rio with 15.17m.
Ibarguen, who recently turned 36, was hampered by niggling injuries throughout the 2019 season. But Rojas, who is 12 years younger than Ibarguen and now has superior PBs to her long-time rival, knows she would be foolish to write off any of her opponents.
“I might be the leading triple jumper at the moment, but I don’t take anything for granted,” said Rojas.
For now, though, Rojas will enjoy her record-breaking performance as the indoor season draws to an end. And she is quick to give credit to the people behind it.
“I dedicate this world record to my family in Venezuela, who will be more than happy with this success, and my coach Ivan Pedroso, who takes care of me for many hours every day in my Spanish base of Guadalajara.”
And, it should go without saying, to Facebook for suggesting she becomes friends with Ivan Pedroso in the first place.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics