Venezuela’s newly-crowned Female World Athlete of the Year Yulimar Rojas says it would be “a great honour” to compete in Africa for the first time ever, adding she would consult with her coach and look into the possibility of travelling to Nairobi next season.
The record-breaking, world champion triple-jumper was on Saturday crowned 2020 Female World Athlete of Year with Swedish pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis bagging the Male World Athlete of Year at a virtual ceremony organised by World Athletics, in place of the traditional end-of-year gala in Monaco.
Responding to a question from Nation Sport on whether she would consider competing in Africa, especially with Nairobi and Rabat hosting legs of the World Athletics Continental Tour and Diamond League, respectively, the 25-year-old, 1.92 metres tall Venezuelan said she would be delighted to jump on African soil.
“I’ve never been to Africa and I would be delighted to be in Africa,” she responded with excitement clearly etched in her voice in a virtual, post-awards interview organised by World Athletics.
“It would be a pleasure, and an honour to be in Africa and I will consult with my coach Ivan Pedroso to look at the possibility of coming to Africa and visiting interesting places in Africa, besides competing,” the Olympic silver medalist at the Rio 2016 Games said.
Cuba’s Sydney 2000 Olympic champion Pedroso, who boasts nine world long jump titles, and considered one of the greatest jumpers of all time, currently coaches Rojas alongside Spanish European indoor triple jump champion Ana Peleteiro and Portugal’s former Olympic and world champion Nelson Evora.
With the Kip Keino Classic leg of the World Athletics Continental Tour penciled for September 18 next year, and with Rojas having thrown down the gauntlet, meeting director Barnabas Korir yesterday took up the challenge and welcomed the possibility of the champion jumper competing in Nairobi next year.
He said he would consult with Brussels-based Golazo, who handle elite athlete invitations for the Nairobi meeting, on the possibility.
Duplantis, 21, also said he would be happy to compete in Africa for the first time “if an opportunity presented itself.”
“I definitely won’t be opposed to it (competing in Africa),” said Duplantis, who broke the world pole vault record twice this year, clearing 6.17 and 6.18 metres in consecutive weekends in February.
“If a competition would come up and the opportunity is there, then I would definitely be cool with coming to Africa,” he responded to Nation Sport from his base in USA.
Rojas, a two-time world triple jump champion (London 2017 and Doha 2019) and also two-time World Indoor Championships gold medalist (Portland 2016 and Birmingham 2018) said she looks forward to “discovering Africa” if invited to compete on the continent.
“I would be very excited to discover the continent and all the beautiful places in Africa,” she noted.
Known for her sense of fashion, Rojas, who loves dying her hair in golden colour while competing, spotted a pink dye on Saturday night while virtually receiving her award which she described as “Santa Claus coming early.”
She explained to Nation Sport that her hair colour basically describes her moods.
“I love colours and I love dying my hair in different colours… This reflects the happiness that I have inside. Whenever I’m happy, I will colour my hair to reflect my happiness.
“Today, my hair is pink because I felt that my soul was pink. The colours change every time and this makes me happy!”
Rojas beat, among others, Kenya’s world half marathon record holder and champion Peres Chepchirchir to the coveted Athlete of the Year award thanks to her stellar form that was only reined in by the coronavirus-enforced break from competition.
She shattered the South American indoor triple jump record with a leap of 15.03 metres in Metz, France, which she improved to 15.43 in Madrid.
“I honestly didn’t expect this, I really cannot believe it. It is such a joy and I’m filled with happiness. Just being one of the finalists felt like winning to me; being nominated among other exceptional athletes was already a wonderful achievement,” she said in her acceptance speech in Saturday night’s virtual awards ceremony presented by sprints legends Ato Bolton (Trinidad and Tobago) and Sanya Richards-Ross (USA) from separate locations.
Rojas said she would still focus on the Olympic gold in Tokyo next year and doesn’t rule out the possibility of shattering the world record by hitting the elusive 16-metre mark.
“I have the ability to do 16 metres and my ambition is to become the first woman to hit the 16-metre mark,” she said.
“I’m still young and I have the ambition… I will do whatever it takes to achieve this.”
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The women’s world triple jump record stands at 15.50 metres held by Ukraine’s Inessa Kravets achieved in August, 1995, at Sweden’s Ullevi Stadium during the Gothenburg World Championships.
With the 2021 Kip Keino Classic to be staged on September 18 as the final leg of the Continental Tour, and with the top-tier Diamond League concluding on September 9 in Zurich, Korir says a great opportunity for both Rojas and Duplantis to conclude their seasons in Nairobi.
“The advantage of the Kip Keino Classic closing the international track and field calendar is that Duplantis and Rojas can then come to Nairobi for their final competition and subsequently sample our attractions at the national parks, game reserves, our coast and other great locations on holiday after a long season…
“We shall work hard to make sure we have them and other top athletes on our roster for September 18, 2021,” Korir assured.
The possible appearance of Duplantis and Rojas in Nairobi would most certainly elevate the profile of the Kip Keino Classic which made a successful entry into the elite, global one-day meeting series on October 3 this year with 30 nations represented at the Nyayo National Stadium.