This week’s Triple Jump Legend feature focuses on a female athlete who has shown that age should be no barrier to competing at the highest level. Yamilé Aldama is an inspiration to me, as a Masters athlete, that disciplined training and determination as a 35 years+ athlete can enable you to enjoy jumping and competing as long as you want.
Born in Havana, Cuba, on August 14 1972, Aldama began her athletics career as a High Jumper (PB 1.88m) and Heptathlete (PB 5246 pts) before turning to the Triple Jump in 1994, jumping 13.92m as a 21 year-old. By 1996 she had improved her PB to 14.43m and qualified for the Atlanta Olympic Games that summer. Unfortunately, injury ruled her out of her first Olympics but she recovered in time for the World Indoor Championships of 1997 in Paris, France. There she finished 6th with a new Central American Record of 14.28m behind the medallists of Inna Lasovskaya (Russia) 15.01m, Ashia Hansen (Great Britain) 14.70m (National Record) and Šárka Kašpárková (Czech Republic) 14.66m (National Record).
By 1999 Aldama had improved her PB to 14.77m and she went to World Championships in Seville, Spain, as an outside medal hope. The gold medal went to Paraskevi Tsiamita (Greece), thanks to her first round jump of 14.88m, but behind her just 7 cm covered the next 5 places! The silver went to Aldama with 14.61m in the second round, taking the medal on countback from Olga Vasdeki (Greece) thanks to her second best leap of 14.34m compared to Vasdeki’s 14.33m.
A year later Aldama competed in her first Olympics, held in Sydney, but despite finishing a notable fourth, her best jump of 14.30m was still 66 cm shy of the medals as Tereza Marinova (Bulgaria) set a new National Record of 15.20m to take gold from Tatyana Lebedeva (Russia) 15.00m and Olena Hovorova (Ukraine) 14.96m (PB).
By 2001 Aldama had moved to Britain following her marriage to Scot, Andrew Dodds. Falling out with the Cuban authorities, the lengthy process of her application for British citizenship pushed her to look for another country to represent in time for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. After setting her best ever performance of 15.29m in Rome, Italy, in 2003, she chose to represent Sudan in 2004 and the omens look good for the Olympics as she jumped 15.28m in Linz, Austria, just 3 weeks before Athens. Despite jumping a credible 14.99m at the Olympics that was only good enough for 5th behind the medallists of Françoise Mbango Etone (Cameroon) with a new African Record of 15.30m, Hrysopiyi Devetzi (Greece) 15.25m and Lebedeva 15.14m.
In 2005 Aldama took 4th place at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, leaping 14.72m – just 6 cm away from the medals as Trecia Smith of Jamaica took gold with 15.11m. In her next 3 major championships, though, she faced some of the biggest disappointments of her career as she failed to reach the final rounds in the 2007 and 2009 World Championships in Osaka and Berlin, respectively. In 2008 she suffered a similar fate in the Beijing Olympics, China, but this time she fouled on each of her 3 qualifying jumps.
In 2011 Aldama gained British citizenship and became the oldest ever debutant for Great Britain when she competed at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, aged 39 years old. She finished 5th, jumping 14.50m, as Olha Saladukha (Ukraine) triumphed with a leap of 14.94m, but the highlight of her individual career was only just around the corner.
On March 10, 2012, in Istanbul, Turkey, Aldama took the World Indoor title with a massive 14.82m in the second round. Olga Rypakova (Kazakhstan) 14.63m and Mabel Gay (Cuba) 14.29m taking silver and bronze. For a masters athlete to take a global title at a senior level championships is an amazing feat and her 14.82m leap remains the World Masters Indoor Record (W35).
At the London Olympics, in the summer of 2012, Aldama couldn’t quite reach the same level of performance, placing 5th with 14.48m while carrying a shoulder injury, half a metre down as Rypakova took gold over Caterine Ibargüen (Colombia) 14.80m. Saladukha taking bronze with 14.79m.
At the age of 40, Aldama finished 6th in the 2013 European Indoor Championships held in Gothenburg, Sweden, jumping 13.95m as Saladukha took gold with a new National Record of 14.88m. 18 months later she competed for England in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Finishing the qualifying session in 7th place with 13.29m, Aldama scratched from the final suffering from injury.
Currently Aldama holds the World Masters Indoor and Outdoor records for W35 (14.65m and 14.82i) and W40 (14.06m and 13.95i) – marks that any male Masters athlete would be proud of. Still jumping today, can she make Rio at the age of 43?! Let’s see what 2016 brings for this Triple Jump Legend.