Olha Saladuha of Ukraine celebrates winning the Triple Jump World title in Daegu (© Getty Images)
2 September 2011Daegu, Korea - Ukaine has something of a tradition in women’s Triple Jump. World record holder Inessa Kravets being the best-known example, and Sydney Olympic silver medallist Olena Govorova being another. So it is something of a surprise to learn that newly-crowned World champion Olha Saladuha drew inspiration not from her compatriots, but from three-time World champion Tatyana Lebedeva of Russia.
The reason being is that Lebedeva knows what it is like to return to the top level after giving birth. After winning her first World title in 2001, Lebedeva gave birth to her first daughter the following year and rebounded in 2003 to successfully defend her World title, before going on to jump a World Indoor record of 15.36m in 2004.
Similarly, Saladuha has produced the best form of her career following a year out in 2009 to have her daughter, Diana. Before then, Saladuha had been a consistent and steadily-improving jumper but had never won a big title.
But since returning, she has gone from strength to strength and after winning the European title last year, the 28-year-old now has a global title to her name, winning here in Daegu with a leap of 14.94m – the second-best mark of her career.
The fact that she won was not so much of a surprise; it was more the manner in which she did it. Her opening leap remained the best of the competition, and stood up to the strong challenges from Olga Rypakova and Caterine Ibarguen.
“I’m very happy, it’s a dream come true. It wasn’t unexpected and I’d hoped and dreamed that it would happen. But I didn’t think I’d win it in the first round,” said Saladuha. “I normally use my first jump as a way to make sure my run-up is okay so I was surprised to jump as far as I did. The atmosphere for the final was great.
“My first jump was technically the best, but I still tried to improve,” she added. “The competition was not easy and I didn’t have enough time to get used to this climate and time change. I could have come to the training camp in Busan but I preferred to stay at home in Donetsk in a familiar environment.”
Saladuha is something of a journeywoman in the world of triple jumping. Having started out at the age of nine in Sergey Bubka’s athletics club in Donetsk, Saladuha switched from sprint hurdling to triple jumping when she joined Anatoliy Boyko’s training group.
The decision proved to be a good one and in 1998 she leapt 13.32m to set a European age-14 best. It would be another three years before she improved on that, and she went on to finish fifth at the 2002 IAAF World Junior Championships.
But just two years later came a big turning point and after two years of injuries – combined with a failed training stint under coach Anatoliy Holubtsov, former trainer of Kravets – Saladuha grew disillusioned with the sport and made the decision to hang up her spikes.
The decision was short-lived and she returned to Boyko, agreeing to stick it out until the end of 2005. But after breaking 14 metres for the first time and later taking silver at the World University Games, Saladuha was back for good.
Since then she has steadily crept up the World lists, from her fourth-place finish at the Europeans in 2006, to a World University Games title in 2007 with a then PB of 14.79m. Saladuha was close to her best with 14.70m at the 2008 Olympics, but in a high-quality final it was only good enough for eighth.
Exhausted, she and husband Denys Kostyuk – an Olympian cyclist for Ukraine – decided at the end of that year that it would be a good time to take a year out to start a family. They did exactly that, and Saladuha returned better than ever in 2010, winning the European title in Barcelona with 14.81m.
This year she established herself as the main rival to two-time World champion Yargeris Savigne, and improved her lifetime best to 14.98m at the Eugene Diamond League meeting.
Saladuha came close to officially achieving one of her career goals – jumping 15 metres – when defeating Savigne in Stockholm earlier this year, but her 15.06m had a 2.3m/s following wind.
She had hoped that Daegu would be the place of her first 15-metre leap, but it was not to be. As it was, she was happy to win with her 14.94m leap, but knows that the best is yet to come.
“My goal in Daegu was 15 metres, but the wind kept changing and I couldn’t catch a good one,” she said. “This time I did not make it, but I know I’m ready to jump that far.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF