So there was Yamile Aldama, sitting in the Roman sunshine, humming along to the soothing sound of Barry White on her iPod, getting ready to start her season as the newly crowned world indoor champion in the triple jump and as a golden prospect on the Olympic medal front at the age of 39.
After all she had been through to get to the top – her husband landing in jail on drug trafficking charges soon after they had moved from Havana to London with their new-born son in 2001, her failure to obtain a British passport in time for the Athens Olympics at a time when she was at her peak and on top of the world rankings – was she savouring the view? Or wondering when her roller-coaster life might be about to take another downward turn?
"No, I'm really fine," Aldama replied. "I'm enjoying this." That was three weeks ago. The very next evening she landed awkwardly on her second-round jump in the Diamond League meeting in the Stadio Olimpico, damaging her shoulder.
It proved to be the least of her worries. As her rock of a coach, Frank Attoh, was helping her leave the stadium, he broke the news that her father had passed away in Cuba.
In London the next day she had an MRI scan on her shoulder and the results showed only minor damage – bruising and a stretched tendon. Her full-out training was put on hold for 10 days but her Olympic dream was still burning bright. She is expected to be back in action in the Aviva 2012 Trials, which open at the Alexandra Stadium in Birmingham on Friday.
Aldama is made of stern stuff. "If you can think of someone heavily pregnant picking up radiators and chucking them places," Attoh, her coach of 11 years, testifies. "Or doing bicep curls the day after having a baby holding plastic bottles full of sand."
Aldama laughs at the radiator anecdote. "That was when I gave birth to my second child," she says. "The same day. The day before we'd had some radiators removed from home and my husband put them on the side. He said: 'Leave them there. I'll move them when I get back from work.'
"I said: 'OK.' But when he left I said to my sister: 'Let's go and dump these.' When I came back I wasn't having the baby but I rang Frank because I needed someone to take me to hospital. I know... crazy woman."
This was August 2010. It had been seven years since Aldama had topped the world rankings, six years since (despite continuing to live and train in London) she accepted an offer to represent Sudan and finished fifth in Athens (she was fourth in Sydney in 2000 while competing for Cuba). Her Scottish husband was out of jail and she finally had a British passport. However, the mother of two was not being looked upon as a medal prospect for London.
But in Istanbul in March, she jumped 14.82m to land the world indoor crown. At 39, Aldama had become the oldest athlete to win a major global track-and-field medal for Britain. The question now is whether the adopted Londoner, a Wembley resident, can land Olympic gold on Sunday 5 August, nine days before her 40th birthday.
The omens remain promising. Despite her painful landing in Rome, Aldama still managed 14.65m on her season's debut. A figure of near anonymity in Britain a year ago, the Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier is approaching the Olympics with the expectation of being a major home medal hope. "Bring it on," Aldama says. "Of course there is going to be pressure, but that is being at the top. You have to deal with it."Reuse content