Feature | Athletics

Five things you should know about Yulimar Rojas and her rival Caterine Ibarguen

The two champion South American athletes love music and football, had similar youths, and are both coached by former Cuban jumpers.

By Evelyn Watta ·

Triple jump with a South American flair and grace.

That’s what Olympic gold medallist Caterine Ibarguen and world champion Yulimar Rojas have brought to the track and field event in recent years.

Colombian hero Ibarguen beat Rojas to the Olympic title at Rio 2016.

But the Venezuelan denied Ibarguen a hat-trick of world athletics titles in London a year later.

The pair were due to face off at the Pan American Games but Ibarguen pulled out with a foot injury after finishing fifth in the long jump in Peru.

It left Rojas as clear favourite to claim the Lima 2019 triple jump crown on Friday (9th August).

Caterine Ibargüen wins triple jump gold

Colombian athlete Caterina Ibargüen takes the gold at the Rio 2016 women's ...

The triple jump rivalry

The pair have faced each other on 14 occasions, with Ibarguen winning 10 times to Rojas’ four.

At 35 years old, Ibarguen has been looking as good as ever, although leading up to Tokyo 2020 she'll be mindful of the threat posed by her younger rival.

After taking silver at London 2012, the Colombian went the next three years unbeaten, including two world titles and the successful defence of her Pan American Games crown at Toronto 2015.

Despite London 2012 gold medallist Olga Rypakova ending her 34-meet winning streak in Birmingham in June 2016, Ibarguen bounced back to win her first Olympic gold in Rio with Rojas, then just 20, taking a surprise silver.

But it was the young Venezuelan who claimed her first win over Ibarguen in the 2017 Rome Diamond League before repeating the trick at the World Championships in London.

Yulimar Rojas on rivalry with Caterine Ibarguen: "I admire her a lot"

The 23-year-old Olympic silver medallist tells us how competing with Rio go...

Rojas missed most of 2018 due to injuries to both ankles.

Ibarguen took full advatange, going unbeaten in the triple jump last year and taking the Diamond League long jump crown as she was named IAAF Female Athlete of the Year for the first time.

But Rojas, now 23, showed she was back to fitness in June with a new national record of 15.06m against Ibarguen's best of 14.89m this season.

The rivals boast one win apiece in their 2019 meetings, which both came in July.

Ibarguen won by just seven centimetres in Lausanne before finishing only sixth behind Rojas in the Monaco Diamond League.

Ahead of what could be an epic clash of the World Championships in Doha, here are five things you need to know about the two South American stars.

1. Tough starts

Caterine Ibarguen and her brother grew up in poverty in Apartado.

They were raised by their grandmother after her parents were separated during the armed conflict in Colombia.

Ibarguen's first sport was volleyball but she began to focus on athletics at the age of 12 with her talent soon leading to a move to the country's second city Medellin.

She first made her name in the high jump, competing at Athens 2004 before setting a national record of 1.93m to win the 2005 South American Championships on home soil in Cali.

But after failing to qualify for Beijing 2008, she took a scholarship to study nursing and compete in Puerto Rico where her coach Ubaldo Duany told her she could be more successful in the triple jump.

Caterine Ibarguen taking part in a high jump competition in Colombia in 2011

Rojas also had a difficult childhood.

The third of six children, her father moved to the United States when she was just one year old with her mother and grandmother bringing up the family in Anzoateugi State.

Like Ibarguen, Rojas was interested in volleyball having watched Venezuela's men and women qualify for Beijing 2008.

But on the day she went to try it out, there were no volleyball coaches at the sports ground.

Instead she was spotted by athletics trainers and started competing in the high jump, achieving 1.81m as a 15-year-old.

She set a South American U20 record of 1.87m in 2013 before deciding to have a go at the triple jump.

Rojas jumped a national record of 13.57m in her first competition, and the rest is history.

"It was a surprise to me because I hadn’t done anything in the triple; no training, no technical work. I only knew what I’d seen on the television." - Yulimar Rojas speaking to IAAF

2. Historic wins

Both jumpers are pioneers for their sports in their home countries.

Rojas won Venezuela's first Olympic medal in athletics at Rio 2016 before becoming the nation's first IAAF world champion a year later.

Thanks to her achievements and height of 1.92m, she is easily recognisable and walks around with a bodyguard in her home country although she spends much of the year in the Spanish town of Guadalajara.

She could make more history at Tokyo 2020 as the first multiple Venezuelan Olympic medallist.

Yulimar Rojas with the triple jump gold medal at the London 2017 World Championships

Ibarguen is her nation's sole Olympic champion in athletics with only BMX cyclist Mariana Pajon (two gold medals) above her on the Colombia all-time list.

She became a household name thanks to her first world title triumph in 2013 with Colombian TV channels so desperate to show her in action that they pay the Diamond League for a special feed of the triple jump which is usually over before the main programme.

Ibarguen remains her country's only female medallist at the IAAF World Championships, finishing on the podium four times - bronze in 2011, gold in 2013 and 2015, and silver in 2017.

Caterine Ibarguen is the only Colombian track and field athlete with two Olympic medals

3. Football lovers

Both are avid football fans.

Ibarguen loves Medellin giants Atletico Nacional.

The certified nurse is a keen watcher of the national team and handed over the Colombia flag to Radamel Falcao and the squad in a send-off ceremony ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

As a fan and member of FC Barcelona, Rojas is living the dream having signed with the club's athletics team in 2016.

She admires Lionel Messi but was upset when Brazilian star Neymar departed for PSG.

4. Cuban connection

Both women have former Cuban jumpers as their mentors.

Rojas is a big fan of social media and even managed to sign up her coach thanks to Facebook.

In 2015, she sent Sydney 2000 gold medallist and four-time world champion Ivan Pedroso of Cuba a message and convinced him to coach her.

Eight weeks later she moved to Guadalajara in Spain to hook up with her new trainer.

Six months after moving to Europe, Rojas won her the first of her two world indoor titles in Portland.

Ibarguen continues to work with Duany, a retired Cuban long jumper with a personal best of 8.32m.

He looks after sprinters as well as jumpers, with his biggest name expressing her gratitude towards him after being presented with the 2018 IAAF Female Athlete of the Year award.

"2018 was definitely one of my best years. The credit goes first and foremost to my coach, who has given me so much help and guidance during my career." - Caterine Ibarguen on coach Ubaldo Duany

5. Music is food for their souls

They both love music.

Ibarguen loves to train to reggae music.

She also has the Colombian tradition of salsa in her blood and is a pretty good dancer too, saying she would pick Puerto Rico's two-time world 400m hurdles silver medallist Javier Culson as her partner.

Rojas is best known for her colourful hair, which she changes on a whim, but dancing also plays a big role in her life.

She is usually moving to some beat wherever and whenever she can.

But whose beat will be more dominant at the IAAF World Champs and beyond? Stay with Olympic Channel for more on Rojas and Ibarguen in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020.