Was there a bigger favourite for gold in Tokyo than Yulimar Rojas? She ends 2021 with the top eight marks in the women’s triple jump and jumped two feet further than her nearest rival. It was a peerless season that has seen her also dominate the all-time list, where she now holds six of the top 10 marks.
The bigger question in Tokyo was whether she would have a world record to go with her gold medal. Rojas had been relentlessly chasing it all season, coming within 7cm of Inessa Kravets’ mark (15.50m) back in May. Although it was to be a perfectly choreographed moment on the biggest stage in August where she would jump an enormous 15.67m.
Let’s break down the jump using the official analysis from the Olympics to get an insight of just how she did it.
Rojas’ world record jump phases (metres)
Two phases are particularly notable: an incredible jump phase at 5.99m, but a relatively modest 3.82m step phase. It is tempting to look at the latter and see it as an area for improvement. Indeed, looking at the data from the top-eight Olympic finalists, it shows that Rojas places last for her step phase—but first for both her hop and jump phases. While this variation can be seen in her fellow medallists, Patricia Mamona and Ana Peleteiro, it’s not as extreme.
Rank for each individual phase
Top eight athletes, Olympic final
We asked Dr Catherine Tucker, senior lecturer in sports and exercise biomechanics at Leeds Beckett University, for her view on Rojas’ jump. “For some athletes, the step phase can be a significant contributor to overall distance or sometimes it can be just a transition between the hop and jump phases.” Tucker, who has produced biomechanical reports for World Athletics, also says “it’s clear that Rojas is able to achieve longer distances maintaining her step phases at approximately 27% of her total distance.” And indeed less in her world-record breaking jump where it was around 24%.
Contribution of each phase to overall distance (%)
Tucker highlighted that a significant factor to Rojas finally achieving the world record is her combination of approach speed and accuracy on the board. The principle of the triple jump is to maximise horizontal velocity into the board and try and maintain it, while gaining vertical velocity across the hop, step and jump phases. Rojas’ approach speed was clocked at 40.2km/h—which, if accurate, puts her amongst the world’s best sprinters. Combining this with her placement ahead of the board (2.6cm), allowed her to make the most of that speed driving two massive hop and jump phases (with the step functioning as a transition).
Could we see Rojas better her own record? Tucker says it’s possible, but probably by improving on the same approach: “it may not be in the extension of the step phase… it may be through reaching a high a run-up speed as possible with accurate placement on the board meaning she can optimise her hop and jump phases”.
Even if she doesn’t, Rojas gifted us with a magical Olympic moment. We could speculate on what she could do in the 100m with that top speed, or even the long jump with that 5.99m final leap. But it’s probably best that we should marvel in her exceptional mastery of this event and see how far she can take it.