Winning gold at the 2003 IAAF World U18 Championships in Sherbrooke represented the first steps in a long international career for German Chiaraviglio. The Argentinian pole vaulter reflects on his success from 14 years ago and explains how it proved crucial in his career development.
There is little doubt Chiaraviglio was among the favourites for pole vault gold leading into the 2003 World U18 Championships in Sherbrooke, Canada. Earlier in the year he had made a giant leap forward in his career, adding 12 centimetres to his lifetime best with 4.93m in Rosario in March before clearing 5.11m in the same city two months later. Then, in his final meeting before his maiden global championships, he secured gold at the South American Junior Championships in Ecuador with a best of 5.16m.
His rapid improvement was remarkable in itself but even more so when you take into account in April of that year his home city of Sante Fe suffered catastrophic flooding, which destroyed his regular training track.
Ranked the second U18 vaulter in the world behind Greece’s Konstadinos Filippidis, Chiaraviglio was at a loss to explain his outstanding form leading into Sherbrooke.
“I don’t know why I was jumping so well that season,” he recalls. “I just knew I was in shape. For Sherbrooke, I tried to not get ahead of myself and focus first on the qualification. I was aged 16 at the time, it was my first World Championships and it was really interesting for me to enter the serious world of track and field.
“I knew that it would be difficult. It is one thing to jump five metres at home, but it is a different thing to compete against the best in the world from countries with a strong pole vaulting tradition like Russia and the USA. A pole vaulter from Argentina was something that had never really happened before.”
Arriving in Sherbrooke as one of a small contingent of four Argentinian athletes for that year’s World U18 Championships, Chiaraviglio also received a surprise on his arrival to the Canadian city when he discovered the local language spoken was French, as is typical for the province of Quebec.
“I wanted to go there to practise my English, but as everyone was speaking French, it was not my best English exam,” he says with a smile. “I had competed once before outside of South America, at a jumps festival in Italy in 2001, but this was my first big competition.”
In qualification, he needed to make minor adjustments at 4.60m and 4.70m, requiring second attempts to achieve the height, but he advanced to the final with a first-time clearance at 4.80m.
He adopted a simple philosophy for the final.
“To go step by step and height by height,” he recalls.
After clearing his first height of 4.60m on his second attempt, Chiaraviglio settled into his groove, making 4.75m, 4.85m, 4.95m and 5.05m with his first efforts – the latter height one in which only two other men in the competition cleared – Russia’s Dmitry Starodubtsev and Steve Lewis of Great Britain.
“I remember at each height I didn’t want to see the other competitors or know how many people were left in the competition,” he explains. “This was not easy because normally as an athlete you want full control of the situation.”
At 5.10m Chiaraviglio and Starodubtsev cleared at the first time of asking, and with Lewis failing with his first attempt and later his two efforts at 5.15m, it became a straight shoot out for gold between the Argentinian and the Russian.
Chiaraviglio missed out with his first attempt at 5.15m, but scraped over with his next effort in a moment of high drama at the Universite de Sherbrooke Stadium.
“I remember the bar wobbling and as soon as I landed on the mat, I jumped off really quickly to make sure it was a legitimate jump,” he says. “It was a positive jump and a really interesting moment.”
It also proved decisive. Starodubtsev missed out twice at 5.15m and, following one failed effort at 5.20m, gold went to Chiaraviglio.
“I remember going over to my father Guillermo, who was also my coach at the time,” he recalls. “I couldn’t quite believe what had happened and I don’t think he could either. It was a really emotional time. It took me about a month or so to understand what had properly happened. To be a world champion from Argentina is not very common.”
On his return to his home city of Sante Fe, he was given star treatment. A fire engine complete with full siren blaring led him from the airport on his arrival home through to a press conference staged in the city. Overnight he became a well-known sporting figure across his homeland, but aged just 16 at the time he admits it was all a little overwhelming.
“It was really strange because I don’t particularly like being the centre of attention,” he explains.
Yet he wore the expectation of a nation well as he went on to earn silver and gold medals at the 2004 and 2006 World U20 Championships respectively.
As a senior athlete, it has taken time for the personable South American to find his feet, but having set his lifetime best of 5.75m just two years ago when taking silver at the Pan-American Games, then reaching the finals at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the 30-year-old may well still have his best days ahead of him.
One thing is for sure; his success in Canada was of huge significance.
“It changed my life,” he says. “It proved to me I could be an athlete.”
And for the scores of athletes competing at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017, Chiaraviglio has a simple message.
“Try to enjoy it, live in the moment and enjoy the different culture,” he explains. “The flame in your career is still very young, so put your best foot forward and embrace it 100 per cent.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF