When Facebook makes friend suggestions, it usually recommends complete strangers or people from your past that you’d rather not reconnect with.
Sporting legends, however, rarely pop up as a friend suggestion on the social network.
So when Ivan Pedroso’s profile picture appeared on Yulimar Rojas’s Facebook feed alongside the question, ‘Add Friend?’ back in 2015, Rojas didn’t hesitate.
She clicked the button and waited. Soon after, the 10-time global long jump champion accepted her request.
“I dared to contact him and told him how much I admired him and that I dreamed of training with him,” recalls Rojas. “He said he had followed my career and believed I had a great talent.”
Rojas relocated to Guadalajara in Spain in November 2015 to be coached by Pedroso. Since then, Rojas has gone on to win four world titles – two outdoors and two indoors – and earn an Olympic silver medal.
A couple of hours before bounding out to a world indoor triple jump record of 15.43m at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Madrid on Friday (21), Rojas had another conversation with Pedroso that will likely stick with her for the duration of her career.
“Before the competition, Ivan told me, ‘today is your day, don’t miss this chance, the only thing you have to do is remain calm and focused and you’ll jump far’.”
Once again, Rojas lived up to her coach’s expectations.
Yulimar Rojas was born in Caracas, but her athletic talent was nurtured in the eastern state of Anzoátegui on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.
Volleyball was the first sport she practised, at the age of 14. A tall girl, she was attracted by the possibility to take advantage of her height and the success of the Venezuelan women’s team, which had qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games a couple of years prior.
A lack of volleyball coaches prevented her from taking up that sport. Instead, athletics coaches took note of her potential.
Rojas and her family lived in a ‘ranchito’, a shanty house made of bricks and a zinc roof, commonly found in poor neighbourhoods around the country. But poverty wasn’t the only obstacle during her early years in the sport. Despite being selected for the national team in the high jump, Rojas’s father refused to give his consent to allow Rojas to travel to international competitions.
Eventually she was allowed to compete overseas and she first enjoyed international success when winning the high jump at the 2011 South American U20 Championships in Medellín.
She made something of a breakthrough in 2013, setting two national U20 records on the same day in Barquisimeto, clearing 1.87m in the high jump and landing at 6.17m in the long jump. That year she also earned high jump silver at the Pan American U20 Championships in Cali and at the Bolivarian Games in Trujillo.
In 2014, she tried the triple jump for the first time and set a national U20 record of 13.57m on her debut. She persevered with the other jumping events, though, and won the high jump at the South American Games in Chile that year.
Her focus changed to the horizontal jumps and she competed in both the long and triple jumps at the World U20 Championships in Eugene, reaching the final of the former. Later in the year, she won both horizontal jumps at the South American U23 Championships in Montevideo.
In recognition of her athletic achievements, her family was given better housing and her younger sister Yerilda Zapata qualified for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, where she competed in the discus.
She set her first senior national records at the 2015 Venezuelan Championships, leaping 6.57m in the long jump and 14.17m in the triple jump. After a long season of competitions, and with an aching body, she decided against competing at the World Championships. But watching the event on TV made her realise she had the potential to be among the world’s best.
After linking up with Ivan Pedroso in late 2015, Rojas moved to Spain for the next chapter in her athletics development. The move soon paid dividends with Rojas improving to 14.69m during the 2016 indoor season and winning the world indoor title in Portland. Outdoors, she sailed out to 15.02m and claimed Olympic silver in Rio with 14.98m.
That was to be Rojas’s last defeat at a global championships.
In 2017 she won her first outdoor world title, beating defending champion Caterine Ibarguen.
Ankle injuries ruled her out for almost the entire 2018 season, but she managed just one competition – the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham – and successfully defended her title.
Back to full fitness in 2019, Rojas started the year with an indoor PB of 14.92m and regularly landed beyond the 15-metre line outdoors, topped by a 15.41m South American record in Andujar in September.
One month later in Doha, she retained her world title with 15.37m, the second-best jump of her career.
If the start of her 2020 campaign is anything to go by – having broken the world indoor record in Madrid with 15.43m – Rojas looks set to add to her collection of championship medals later this year.
Rojas’s progression (high jump, long jump, triple jump)
2010: 1.63m, 5.42m, –
2011: 1.81m, 5.57m, –
2012: 1.75m, 5.93m, –
2013: 1.87m, 6.23m, –
2014: 1.82m, 6.48m, 13.65m
2015: 1.80m, 6.57m, 14.20m
2016: -, -, 15.02m
2017: -, -, 14.96m
2018: -, -, 14.63m
2019: -, 6.26m, 15.41m
2020: -, 6.59m, 15.43m
World indoor triple jump record progression
14.14m Galina Chistyakova (URS) Glasgow 1990
14.30m Inessa Kravets (URS) Seville 1991
14.39m Inessa Kravets (URS) Seville 1991
14.44m Inessa Kravets (URS) Seville 1991
14.46m Iolanda Chen (URS) Moscow 1993
14.47m Inessa Kravets (UKR) Toronto 1993
14.61m Inna Lasovskaya (RUS) Moscow 1994
14.78m Inna Lasovskaya (RUS) Moscow 1994
14.90m Inna Lasovskaya (RUS) Lievin 1994
15.03m Iolanda Chen (RUS) Barcelona 1995
15.16m Ashia Hansen (GBR) Valencia 1998
15.16m Tatyana Lebedeva (RUS) Budapest 2004
15.25m Tatyana Lebedeva (RUS) Budapest 2004
15.36m Tatyana Lebedeva (RUS) Budapest 2004
15.43m Yulimar Rojas (VEN) Madrid 2020