Olga Rypakova in the heptathlon high jump
In the latest in our series of World Junior memories, we speak to Kazakhstan’s Olympic triple jump champion Olga Rypakova about her recollections of the 2002 edition in Kingston.
Aged just 15 at the time, Olga Rypakova made her IAAF World Junior Championships debut in the long jump at the 2000 edition in Santiago, Chile. There she had placed 23rd overall but looking back on the experience she appreciates the opportunity to have competed in South America.
“It was my first time I had ever travelled abroad and I was very worried as I was three or four years younger than the other competitors,” she says. “There were no other objectives I had to achieve. It was just a chance to feel the atmosphere of a major international sporting event.”
Yet in 2002 with the help of her first coach, Nazarova Tatyana Anatolievna, and her father, Alexeev Sergei Dmitrievich, the focus was on heptathlon – a decision which looked the right one after she registered a PB for the seven-event competition of 5903 in the Kazakh city of Almaty in May.
“This performance gave me more confidence to face the challenge ahead in Kingston,” she says. “I still had my weak spots though, namely the shot, javelin and 800m.”
With the championships staged in the colourful Caribbean island of Jamaica, Rypakova recalls the city of Kingston “very fondly” and describes the trip as “unforgettable”.
Arriving two weeks before the competition, she took in some memorable trips to the waterfalls, beach and the Blue Lagoon.
“The locals greeted us very warmly, and we even got to meet expats from Kazakhstan who left the home country for various reasons,” she explains. “They were the ones who showed us some of the sights of this small but beautiful country.”
Facing the defending world junior champion Carolina Kluft was always likely to prove a daunting challenge. The previous month the super Swede had racked up an impressive score of 6272 at the European Cup and she was a red-hot favourite in Kingston, according to Rypakova.
“Of course, Carolina Kluft was an extremely talented athlete, and her only real opponent in Kingston was herself,” she explains. “She was beyond the reach of the other heptathletes; the real fight was happening for the silver and bronze.”
Rypakova enjoyed a promising first day, recording PBs in the 100m hurdles (14.38) and shot (12.24m) to lie second behind the dominant Kluft overnight on 3422, a slender 16 points clear of third-placed Olga Levenkova of Russia.
On day two, the Kazakh achieved a solid 6.01m long jump followed by a 38.83m javelin throw and leading into the 800m she was in second place with 4920, 23 points clear of Tine Veenstra of the Netherlands and 84 clear of Levenkova.
“It is still clear in my mind just how nervous I was before the 800m run,” she adds. “I was some way clear of the Russian athlete before this last event, but it was one of her strong points. I absolutely had to finish no further than 45m behind her in the race in order to keep the second place.”
Thankfully Rypakova held on to the silver medal. Her time of 2:21.25 was about five seconds slower than Levenkova but with a total score across the seven disciplines of 5727 it was enough to claim second spot on the podium by a margin of 15 points.
Kluft was head and shoulders above the opposition, registering a world junior record score of 6470.
“The silver medal in Kingston was for me the very hardest to get and the dearest at that moment,” she recalls.
Rypakova later developed into a world-class triple jumper, but she absorbed some vital lessons for her future athletics career.
“I gained an immense amount of experience from participating in a competition of such a high level,” she recalls. “I learned how to have the right attitude before the start of the event, and to persevere when it was most needed, as well as to overcome challenges when I was at my limit.”
Olga Rypakova competed for several more seasons as a heptathlete, winning the Asian Games title in 2006 before switching to triple jump the following year.
In 2008 she emerged as a global force in her newfound event, finishing fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with an Asian record of 15.11m.
In 2010 she secured the world indoor title before extending her Asian record mark with a mighty leap of 15.25m to take the Continental Cup crown in Split.
She took the silver medal at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu and then became the Olympic triple jump champion at the London 2012 Games.
Having returned to action in 2014 after giving birth to her second child, Rypakova claimed the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
And after ending Caterine Ibarguen’s three-year winning streak at the recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham, the 31-year-old will be a medal threat at the forthcoming Olympic Games in Rio.
Advice for the next generation
Rypakova has experienced much in a lengthy and medal-laden career and she believes mental preparation is vital for all those set to compete at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016.
“I always tell younger athletes that the key to success lies in your attitude,” she says. “If before the competition you second-guess yourself and think that you will fall, or that you aren’t as good as your competitors, then you are guaranteed to fail. You have to think positively.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF