Team GB’s Cuban-born Yamilé Aldama books place in Olympic triple jump final

 

The Olympic Stadium

No-one could blame Yamilé Aldama for playing it a little safe today. Her indefatigable coach Frank Attoh, without whom she would not have been making her long-awaited Olympic debut for Britain at the age of 39 in bright sunshine, gestured his surprise at how far behind the take-off board she had launched off for her first triple jump. But a nine-year unfulfilled desire to represent a nation tempers an athlete and makes her determined not to take any chances with reaching a final.

Aldama did make there - easily so – reaching beyond the 14.40 qualifying distance by five centimetres, a performance bettered only by Jamaica’s Kimberley Williams’ 14.53. “I wasn’t running as hard,” the Cuban-born Aldama said. “I was a little bit concerned because the wind was changing and you’ve got a headwind. I wanted to make sure. Get it down on the first one. That’s what I did.” Only Williams and Aldama matched the qualifying target, with the next ten best distances making Sunday’s final. That reveals how substantial Aldama’s medal chances are, this weekend.

The idea of being one of the first Britons to experience the deafening home support of the Olympic Stadium – where only Jessica Ennis’ 100m eclipsed her in the early performances– is one she has written off up in her head, many times. When she jumped 15.29 metres at a meeting in Rome nine summers ago, becoming No 1 in the world, all the talk was of her going to Athens for Britain. She had been resident here, with her British husband Andrew Dodds, for a little less than the three years required for British residency to be granted automatically. She hoped things might be rushed through, in the way that Zola Budd was naturalized inside 13 days in 1984 - though things didn’t turn out that way. There was chaos in the background. Her husband had been imprisoned for his part in a $17 million (£10.8 million) dollar heroin smuggling ring and she has always felt that her husband’s crime – which has never been disputed – influenced the naturalization process, with potential to take the sheen on the GB image, heading into the Athens Games. Aldama performed instead for Sudan – whose government were fast-tracking passports for talented athletes from elsewhere to enhance their own podium possibilities– finishing fifth.

That finish added to the fourth she had achieved at Sydney in 2000 for her native Cuba, where she was part of the Castro regime’s national sports and recreation programme, which identifies young athletes early. It was only about a year ago that Attoh suggested Aldama resurrect the very old idea of performing for Britain, after watching the AAAs event in Birmingham and seeing none of the British triple-jumpers jumping over 14 metres – let alone reaching the qualifying standard. The Sudanese federation agreed to release her, so beginning the new chapter in which she has been mentally preparing for the Olympic Stadium which she can see from her home at Wembley.

All of which is why it was an emotional Aldama who reflected yesterday on this coveted appearance, achieved in the month she turns 40, an age at which she had expected athletics to have long given up on her, let alone Great Britain. Aldama sat alone against an advertising hoarding after her work had been done, fleeced up against that sharp wind and quite clearly wrapped up in her thoughts. “I have waited a long time for this,” she said, having emerged from that reverie. “This is my fifth Olympic Games  and I have never known anything like this crowd. Normally it’s empty and there’s been nothing like this.” She went into the qualifying round on the recovery curve from a bad shoulder injury sustained in her second-round jump in the Diamond League meeting in the Stadio Olimpico, early in a season she started as the newly crowned world indoor champion in the triple jump. Aldama looked far sharper and fitter as she produced her safe jump yesterday in a fashion which made the work of Ukrainian Olha Saladuha, perilously close to stepping over the board, look heavy by comparison “What shoulder?” she joked.

Aldama’s story deconstructs the notion of her as one of those ‘plastic Brits. “What I wanted was to represent Britain. I wanted to compete at the top and had my reasons for wanting to represent Britain,” she said. Gold tomorrow would enable her to make a statement to those who had challenged her eligibility and it will also deliver her 71-year-old mother Modesta to London to see her. She has left Cuba for the first time in her life to do so. That will be some font of emotion. “I’ve finished fourth and fifth in Olympics and hopefully I can change that now,” Aldama reflected. “We only have to wait until Sunday.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness