Yarisley Silva in the pole vault at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)
Yarisley Silva has been Cuba’s leading pole vaulter for more than a decade. The 2015 world champion and equal fifth best vaulter of all time reflects on the highest and lowest moments of her decorated career.
The Olympic silver medal in London (in 2012) marked a turning point in my career. Cuba had never featured that high in pole vaulting on the world stage before, except for Lazaro Borges’ silver medal at the 2011 World Championships.
I treasured that medal so much because I overcame many challenges throughout my career. Thanks to the generosity of friends in Pamplona, Spain, I acquired Pacer poles and they really helped me aim higher.
Winning silver taught me the value of our daily sacrifice. It confirmed that with dedication, hard work and faith, we can succeed.
Standing on the podium was a dream come true. Every athlete wants an Olympic medal. I was so proud to represent Cuba and win a medal in an event many thought almost impossible. It is one of the most beautiful experiences I have had in my life. Truly sensational.
It proved I could be a contender with the world’s best. I was no longer an unknown athlete so there was more pressure to perform, but it was also a great motivation to train harder and smarter and set new goals. That’s what really propelled my career and the success that followed, with the world indoor title in 2014 and the gold medal at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.
Behind every medal there are many people supporting you. My family has always been there in the good and bad times, as well as my coach Alexander Navas.
I consider the period following the 2016 Olympic final as the lowest point in my career. I reflected on the year and had the feeling I was stagnant, that I had reached my plateau.
It took me a while to understand that high and low moments are just part of life and things happen for a reason. I embraced God and I see things differently and I have a different outlook on life and how I react to performances. I feel more at peace with myself, more organised and confident.
The 2018 season has allowed me to regain the belief that there’s still room for improvement and that I can still go for the Olympic gold in 2020.
I also faced an uphill psychological battle following my first Olympic experience in 2008. I underperformed and I faced some detractors at home, but here I am 10 years later. Regardless, I enjoyed seeing Yelena Isinbayeva, Fabiana Murer and Monika Pyrek and other top women up close.
I guess the world title in 2015 was the best redemption for my results in Beijing in 2008 and (at the World U20 Championships) in 2006.
Reflecting on my career, I smile when I remember how I was introduced to pole vault. My childhood dream was to feature on the front cover of a magazine. Initially, I wanted to be dancer. I had no clue what pole vault was. When I first tried, I reached 2.50m. I saw it as a game.
Fast forward to 2018, I am thankful to God, the Cuban government, our sports system and a united family for allowing me to pursue my aspirations. I have realised my childhood dream. Now I can build on my success and continue to dream.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF