Caterine Ibarguen has always been a jumper. It just took her a while to figure out how best to employ her leaping abilities. As is often the case, the key to Ibarguen’s eventual success was a providential meeting between an athlete and the coach who recognized her potential.
Jump-Starting Her Track and Field Career
Ibarguen was born in Apartado, in the Department of Antioquia, in northwest Colombia. She was raised by her grandmother after Ibarguen’s parents separated, and began her sporting life as a volleyball player. Volleyball didn’t turn out to be her best sport, of course, but it did help her show off her vertical jumping ability. Having caught the eye of a jumps coach at age 12, she accepted an invitation to train in Antioquia’s capital, Medellin, with Cuban jumps coach Jorge Luis Alfaro. Her initial focus was in the high jump.
The high jump remained Ibarguen’s main event as a junior and young senior athlete, although she had some success in both the horizontal jumps as well. She became a continental competitor at age 15 when she earned a bronze medal in the high jump during the senior South American Championships. In 2001 she won the high jump gold medal at the Bolivarian Games – a competition among Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. Ibarguen went on to win two South American Junior championships in the high jump and one in the triple jump. At the South American U23 Championships, she earned the high jump gold medal in 2004 and won the long jump competition in 2006. On the senior level she won South American high jump championships three consecutive years, from 2005-07.
Although Ibarguen had made her mark in South American athletics, she hadn’t broken through internationally prior to the 2008 Olympics. As a high jumper she’d qualified for the 2004 Olympics, 2005 World Championships and 2006 World Indoor Championships, but did not make the final in any of the three competitions. When she failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, Ibarguen was ready for a new career, so she moved to Puerto Rico to study nursing at Metropolitan University. She considered retiring from athletics, but instead began training with another Cuban coach, Ubaldo Duany. The new coach felt that Ibarguen’s muscular legs would limit her in the high jump, but would be perfect for the horizontal jumps in general, and the triple jump in particular.
While she perfected her triple jump form, Ibarguen continued to compete in the high jump in 2009. She won another South American championship and earned a trip to the World Championships in Berlin, but again didn’t qualify for the final. In a sign of things to come, however, she also won the 2009 South American triple jump title. She improved in the triple jump throughout 2010 – topping 14 meters for the first time – then enjoyed her long-awaited international breakthrough in 2011, when she made her first World Championship final. She sat in third place for most of the final, then solidified her position with a fifth-round attempt measuring 14.84 meters (48 feet, 8¼ inches) to earn the bronze medal. Additionally, Ibarguen set the South American triple jump record of 14.99/49-2¼ at the Colombian Grand Prix a few weeks before the World Championships, then won the Pan American Games triple jump title afterwards.
The multi-talented Ibarguen also dabbled in the heptathlon in 2009-10, scoring a personal best 5,742 points at the University Championships in San German, Puerto Rico in 2009.
Ibarguen entered the 2012 Olympics as one of the favorites. She was in third place after two rounds, then took the lead with a third-round jump measuring 14.67/48-1½. She didn’t remain on top for long, however, as Olga Rypakova unleashed her winning jump of 14.98/49-1¾ later in the round. Ibarguen briefly fell back to third when Olga Saladukha leaped 14.79/48-6¼ in the sixth round, but Ibarguen answered with an effort measuring 14.80/48-6¾ on her final attempt, to earn the silver medal.
After graduating from Metropolitan University with a nursing degree in 2012, Ibarguen began coaching some of the school’s athletes. But her own athletic career was far from over. In the 2013 World Championship final, Ibarguen fouled on her first attempt and faced a large deficit in the second round, as Russia’s Ekaterina Koneva had already reached 14.81/48-7¼. But Ibarguen responded with a world-leading 14.85/48-8¾, which held up to give Ibarguen the victory, and Columbia’s first-ever World Championships gold medal.
- Height: 5 feet 11 inches
- Weight: 150 pounds
- Birth date: February 12, 1984
- Hometown: Apartado, Colombia
- Personal best: 14.99 meters (49 feet, 2¼ inches) triple jump; 6.73/22-1 (long jump); 1.93/6-4 (high jump)