Hugues Fabrice Zango’s bronze medal at the 2019 World Athletics Championships surprised many.
But the triple jumper from Burkina Faso was dissatisfied by the third-place finish at his second Worlds.
“Honestly, I am disappointed. I am happy I got a medal, but I was coming here for the gold. Bronze is disappointing because I know my capabilities,” he told Olympic Channel after his 17.66m in Doha, the furthest leap by an African in the triple jump.
Ahead of him, double Olympic champion Christian Taylor won his fourth world title with a mark of 17.92m.
Incidentally, Zango’s bronze happened to be the first medal ever for his country at the World Athletics Championships.
The reception back in Ouagadougou made him realise what that medal meant for most of the 20 million Burkinabes.
“When I landed home at the airport, there was really big crowd, and everybody was so happy. We sang the national anthem together, a memory I’ll never forget,” he told World Athletics.
The early years
Zango has always been an athlete who enjoys the pressure he puts on himself to excel.
The will to succeed is what has helped him in a sport very few in the football-mad nation even understood.
Speaking to the Olympic Channel Zango said of his early start in sport: “I started with taekwondo and then I dropped it. I really liked combat sports.
“I started athletics a bit by accident. The major sports in Burkina Faso are football and cycling. You don’t hear a lot about athletics in Burkina Faso.
“In 2011 I was scouted to take part in a school competition. During that event, a coach from the Stade du 4 Aout, one of the only stadiums with an athletics track in the country, believed I could make a good jumper.
“I started training with him in 2012 up until 2015. In 2016 I moved to France and trained for two years with a local coach.”
His coach: Teddy Tamgho
Silver medals at the 2015 World Universiade in Gwangju and at the 2016 African championships in Durban boosted his confidence.
He struggled though to find his footing at the 2016 Rio Olympics and at his debut Worlds in London a year later.
But it didn’t weigh him down.
Zango instead sought someone to back up his towering ambitions of ‘18 metres and beyond’.
Teddy Tamgho, the 2013 World champion, was the perfect match.
So how did they hook up?
“I knew Teddy via social media and from the world of athletics,” the 26-year-old said.
“It also helped that the president of my current club in France, Artois Athletisme, also knew Teddy. I talked to the president and asked him if he could talk to Teddy on my behalf so that he can coach me to improve my technique. Teddy agreed.”
Zango is proving to be a fast learner.
He may have missed his target at Doha in 2019, but he came so close to bettering Tamgho’s 17.92m world indoor record from the 2011 European Indoor Championships.
He jumped 17.77m, another African record, at the Meeting de Paris on February 2.
“I think we can do big things together."
“He has given me a lot of advice on how to manage top events, my physical and mental status in general,” he added of his French coach.
"He knows what he went through to reach the level I want to get to."
Zango wants to fly.
He wants to inch closer and maybe even beyond Jonathan Edwards' outdoor record mark of 18.29m.
"They call me 'record man'; for me the most important thing is the world record.
This is what I want to reach."
“Usain Bolt took sport to another level. He went over the human limits. And that’s what I want now. To improve the world record," he said of his dreams of leaping into track and field history.
"18.29m is good but I don’t think this is the human limit. When I become world record holder, I will have done everything.”
His Olympic dreams have been delayed for now but not dashed.
“I expected the postponement of the Olympics and now the priority is to stay healthy. There’s been difficulties in training and many competitions cancelled,” Zango told the Olympic Channel.
“We will still have a few competitions to do this summer, but the objective remains the Olympic Games in 2021. Being a believer, I know that I will have extraordinary Games.”
Even before his sporting and academic titles change, he is already enjoying celebrity status back home.
“Now yes. I am starting to become famous. When you say Hugues Fabrice Zango the triple jumper, most of the people know me. Now people start to understand and follow athletics, triple jump [in Burkina Faso]. I am quite famous among the youth.”
“In triple jump I would like to win an Olympic medal for Burkina Faso. We’ve never won an Olympic medal. We are not far. In Japan, I think we will be ready for the win. “
His sporting dreams are in sync with his professional aspirations.
He is studying for his PhD in Lille.
“Studies are very important especially in individual sport where there isn’t a lot of money like in football. The day your career is over, if you don’t have another plan you can end up in difficult conditions. We have seen top athletes who did not plan for their post-careers,” Zango said.
“For the PhD in electrical engineering, what I want is to be a professor at some point. In our universities [in Burkina Faso], especially in technical disciplines like electrical engineering or mechanics, we only have foreigner professors teaching there.
"My goal is to be among the first local professors and share my knowledge with the students in my country.”