Antonietta Di Martino thanks the crowd for their support in Birmingham (© AFP / Getty Images)
Antonietta Di Martino, the silver medallist at the recent European Indoor Championships became the second Italian female high jumper in history to clear 2 metres, a feat she accomplished in Banska Bystrika on 13 February.
In the Slovakian town she improved Antonella Bevilacqua’s 13-year-old Italian indoor record by 2 centimetres with a clearance of 2 metres exact. Di Martino is just 1.69m tall, so a jump of 31 cm above her head height.
Di Martino is suddenly mentioned in the same breath as Italian high jumping legend Sara Simeoni who broke the 2m barrier twice in her perfect 1978 season when she set the then World record at 2.01 first in Brescia and then went on to win the European outdoor title in Prague where she tied her World record at 2.01 after a dramatic battle against her arch-rival Rosemarie Ackermann from Germany. Simeoni crowned her fantastic career with her Olympic gold medal in Moscow 1980.
“Sara is my model athlete. She is a simple woman and this makes us very similar. She has always encouraged me since I met her for the first time in Formia when I was recovering from a serious injury”, said Di Martino.
After the 2 metres clearance in Banska Bystryka, Simeoni paid tribute to Di Martino’s achievement: “Antonietta has joined the 2 metres elite and I am convinced that she will continue her progress. This is only the beginning.”
A dream come true
Di Martino’s 2007 successful indoor campaign was also highlighted by a European silver medal in Birmingham where she cleared 1.96 in her first attempt before missing 1.99m after her three tries.
“At the beginning of the season I did not think about 2 metres or medals in big international championships. I had given up these dreams after many years of injuries. But during the winter many things have changed. I have become more confident and I am more matured.”
“In Birmingham I realized that I could get a medal by clearing 1.96 in my first attempt which proved to be crucial in the fight for medals. I saw that my rivals were struggling at lower heights on a difficult runway. I lost my focus at 1.99 but it was not far from my PB. I am very pleased with my silver medal because I competed against the best high jumpers in the world. I had dreamed of a medal but was not expecting it at all. I was hoping to go over 2 metres again in Birmingham but I could not.”
The last time an Italian high jumper got on a podium in a big international championship was in 1984 when Simeoni took the Olympic laurels in Los Angeles. In the arena of European indoor championship competition she was a prolific winner taking four titles - 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1981.
Combined Events background
Di Martino was beaten impressively in Birmingham by Tia Hellebaut of Belgium who set three national indoor records at 2.01, 2.03 and 2.05, on her first tries, to take the indoor crown to go with her continental outdoor gold of the previous summer. European outdoor silver medallist Venelina Veneva from Bulgaria went over the same height at 1.96 in the second time of asking and had to content with bronze medal on countback.
“Tia was super in Birmingham. She is on another planet at the moment”, said Di Martino of her rival who, like Di Martino, began her career with combined events.
Di Martino began her athletics career at twelve during the Italian Youth Sport Games. She began with Combined Events and Javelin Throw. She set a 5687 PB in the Heptathlon in 2001 which ranks her tenth in the Italian all-time list in this discipline.
“Heptathlon is my first love. I am grateful to Combined Events. I developed my strength and speed from competing in many different events. This has also helped me psychologically. I have not the typical high jumper body. I am only 169 centimetres tall but I think smaller jumpers are faster and lighter and this is my advantage. In training I like combining high jump with other different disciplines. I love running and hurdling, long jump and shot put. But I was forced to give up competing in this discipline due to many injuries.”
Cooking, reading, and early success hampered by injury
Twenty-eight year-old Di Martino was born in Cava dei Tirreni on 1 June 1978. Her mother Anna is a housewife and her father Alfredo worked in a pastry shop but he is now retired. She has one brother Salvatore and one sister Simona. Her boyfriend Massimiliano played football but now works as a lawyer.
“My father worked for 21 years in a pastry shop and transferred me the passion for cooking cakes and sweets. During my spare time I also like reading and listening to music or relaxing on the beach of Maiori where I go as soon as I can. I love my native town which is just a few kilometres from the Amalfi coast and I have a good memory of my childhood there.”
Di Martino made the headlines for the first time in July 2001 when she cleared her outdoor PB of 1.98 at the Italian Championships in Catania. Later in the 2001 summer she qualified for the women’s High Jump final at the World Championships in Edmonton where she finished twelfth when she was 23. Unfortunately the following seasons were the beginning of a difficult period for Di Martino whose career was hampered by a series of serious injuries. In 2003 she underwent surgery on her ankle ligament, an injury which put the rest of her career at risk.
“I am grateful to Professor Francesco Benazzo who operated me and Dottor Vittorino Testa who gave me a strong encouragement during the difficult period of rehabilitation. I also want to thank my parents, my club Fiamme Gialle and my coach Davide Sessa, a former triple jumper.”
Birmingham could be the start of an exciting year for Di Martino who is looking forward to this summer’s World Championships in Osaka with renewed confidence. “The European Indoor Championships final in Birmingham was like the World Championships. Apart from Kajsa Bergqvist the best in the world was there. Osaka is not the only big goal for me in the coming months. I am happy that the European Cup First League takes place in Milan. I would also like to take part in the Golden League meetings,” said Di Martino of her summer plans.
Di Martino’s achievements marked a successful indoor season for Italian athletics which enjoyed its best ever edition of the European Indoor Championships. With six medals (three golds, one silver and two bronze) the Italian team finished second in the medal table behind host nation Great Britain.
“I have never attended a big event in which so many Italians went to the podium. It gave me a very feeling. We were a great team”, concluded Di Martino
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF