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GB triple jumper Yamilé Aldama going for gold
As the flags are raised, the bunting is hung out and the Olympic torch burns its way towards the capital, the nation is holding its breath in anticipation of the biggest sporting event of a generation.
In just three weeks’ time the eyes of the world will focus on London, as Danny Boyle’s much-hyped opening ceremony marks the beginning of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Following Tuesday’s announcement of the Team GB squad, our attention must now turn to the competitors themselves and that all important question: Which British athletes can we hope to see winning medals?
With her eyes firmly on the prize, 39-year-old triple-jumper Yamilé Aldama is keeping a cool head. “I’m a person that doesn’t show too much,” she says. “I try to keep all my energy in. But once I step out on the track the adrenalin starts. When I compete, that’s when I show a lot of emotion.”
Focussed, strong-minded and passionate, the mother-of-two is determined to come home with a medal.
Ever since she was a young girl growing up in sunny Cuba, her competitive streak has been obvious. Excelling at chess, volleyball and athletics, it wasn’t long before her talents were realised.
“I was in primary school when some scouts came looking for talent. They noticed me and watched my progress. In Cuba you have to do everything – high jump, long jump, 800 meters, cross country – literally everything.”
But it was not until 1994 that she was introduced to the triple jump. After training long and hard for two years she qualified to represent Cuba at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but was forced to pull out due to injury.
Staying focussed she won a silver medal at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, but narrowly missed the podium at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, finishing fourth.
When asked about her toughest moment, she laughs: “There have been many. But I think without those bad times it wouldn’t be possible for me to be where I am now. You just have to say ‘okay, now I have to pick myself up again’. After all, you need to be down before you can go up.”
Aldama is a strong woman, but her life has been far from easy. In 2001 she married Andrew Dodds and emigrated to England where they had their first son, Amil. Just two years later her world was turned upside down when Dodds was jailed drug trafficking offences. “He made a mistake and he paid for that. It happens and okay I was left on my own with a young child in a city where I didn’t know anyone – no friends or family. But he has been a great husband and a great father and that’s the most important thing for me,” she says.
Dodds served half of his 15-year-sentence, while Aldama soldiered on as a single mother, continuing to train. But with the 2004 Games fast approaching she needed a nation to represent. Her native Cuba had rejected her after she emigrated to the UK, and her application for a British passport was stalled. Just as she seemed all out of luck, she was asked to represent Sudan. With passport in hand she travelled to compete at Athens, where she finished fifth.
For the next five years she continued to fly the Sudanese flag until, finally, she received her British passport in 2010 – her ticket to represent Great Britain.
Juggling the demands of family life along with her athletics career, Aldama has been training tirelessly. Six days a week she travels from her home in Wembley to Copthall Stadium in Hendon where she’s put through her paces by coach, Frank Attoh. But Aldama insists she never tires of it: “I love triple jump it’s something for me that’s satisfying. I wake up on a morning and I just love what I do. Even if I have to train in the cold weather, in the rain, I don’t mind as long as I am doing the sport.”
Just four months ago she won gold for Britain at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul – her winning jump of 14.82 metres making her a real contender at this summer’s London Olympics.
“I have really had some good moments. But after so many years struggling and all the difficulties trying to stay here in London, I really appreciate this.”
Now with a fire in her belly, she has her heart set on a medal in the 2012 Games. “A lot of people are getting very excited about the Olympics. I feel it with neighbours, friends and family – they want to enjoy every moment of it. My son’s school in Wembley has been so supportive and all the parents say they’ll be cheering me on and hope I can do it.”
When asked about her target for the Games, she says: “I always go into a competition wanting to win but sometimes you have that chance and sometimes you don’t. I think this time I have a chance. My goal is to have a very good Games and if I win – great – but to be honest I’ll be happy with any medal.”