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Posted: May 29, 2003

Athletics: Young Girl, Big Jumps

by Paul Grech

Athletics' records don't get broken by teenagers. It takes years of hard training and experience for an athlete to get to the point where they can aim for that special target. Fresh-faced youngsters don't have it in them to do likewise. It simply doesn't work that way.

Not unless there's a special talent involved.

On an international scale, a 5.82 metres mark in the long jump barely registers. But for Malta that is a national record. And one set in the past weeks by an eighteen-year-old girl.

It has been a hectic two months for Rebecca Camilleri. Her preparations for the Small Nations' Games (a mini-version of the Olympics for European Nations whose populations doesn't exceed one million) overlapped with the exams that could determine whether she makes it to University or not. "Sometimes it can be difficult," she admits "but I've been combining the two since I was twelve years old. So much that now I wouldn't be able to study without training because that is when I manage to switch off."

Naturally, you need a lot of determination and discipline. And it seems that Rebecca has plenty of both. Apart from books and training, there was another element competing for her time in the run up to the international meet during which she broke the national record. "I hadn't trained for two weeks because I was very sick, but the coach insisted that I take part. It was pretty windy so I made a number of no-jumps. When it came to my last jump, I thought 'I'm here when perhaps I should be studying, so I'd better do something special'. My coach immediately realised that I had made a good jump and when it was measured they found that I had cleared 5.82 metres."

"I was happy, but as I didn't know what the wind was like I stayed quite. Then when they measured the wind it resulted that the distance would stand. That was when I started to celebrate. I couldn't believe it because I had been so sick and my moral wasn't the best. But I tried and got a fantastic result."

Her words betray an understandable joy for the result, but also the respect that she has for her coach at the Atleta Pembroke club, Jivko Jetchev. "Not only is he an excellent coach, but I've got a very good relationship with him. He knows me well as an athlete and knows my character. I don't know what I would do without him."

Jivko was the one who realised her potential for the long jump. "In the beginning, all the kids take part in all the events so that they get the hang of the basics. She used to take part in sprints, but when she turned fourteen we decided that she should focus on the long jumps. She is very coordinated and has a lot of natural ability. She is an excellent talent."

If Rebecca places her faith in Jivko's advice, this is mirrored in the Bulgarian coach's absolute faith in her talent. Unlike others, he wasn't surprised by the fact that she broke the national record because "from her I expect everything. The record is nothing special. The aim is for her to clear six metres and more. I want he to qualify for the European Championships. And she should make it into the final and among the best eight. I have no doubt that she is capable of doing that. She's incredible."

The six metres set by Jivko Jetchev is the eventual target. First, there are the Small Nations' Games, in which she is going "to do my best and then see where that gets me." Jivko is of the same opinion. "It isn't important that she wins a medal, but that she gets a good result." Again he mentions the six metres, further underlying his faith in her abilities to clear this distance. "The result has to be more than six metres. She's already capable of doing that and, naturally if she manages than she'll be in with a good chance for a medal, one of a very good colour!"

The Small Nations' Games will also offer Rebecca the opportunity of competing against foreign athletes. Not that she's lacking from such opportunities, given the Malta Amatuer Athletics Associations' continuous efforts to send its athletes to compete abroad. Such experience is vital in an athlete's development as it offers new challenges, particularly in a discipline like the long jump where there aren't many local competitors.

"It is very important," opines Rebecca "especially as I don't have a lot of competition. You need to compete at a higher level to develop as an athlete, to compete in an environment where you have to aim higher."

It is the coach's job to ensure that an athlete stays motivated, to keep aiming higher regardless of the results. Yet, sometimes, there is the need for a different environment that offers new incentives. When it comes to Maltese athletes, public consensus is that for these to get to a certain level they have to go abroad. But is that really the case, particularly for Rebecca? Jivko believes that this isn't necessary. "In Malta you have ideal conditions for athletics. The facilities are good and the weather is excellent. What Rebecca would need is to take part in more international competitions and training camps, and the MAAA is ensuring that local athletes have plenty of that."

The only certainty is that, to fulfil her potential, Rebecca would need to dedicate more time to athletics. She is cautious about the possibility of that happening "at the moment, I'm taking each day as it comes. I train every day and do the best I can."

At the same time, she's hopeful that eventually athletics might become her full time occupation. "I'm always asking the coach whether I'm good enough and he always replies that I am provided that I stay focused. So I do hope and wish to compete on a professional level. On my part, the most that I can do is to give my utmost in everything I do."

Any opinions or comments about this piece can be sent to Paul Grech.


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