The world of athletics shimmied to the beat of salsa this month as the sporting heroes of the future gathered in Cali for the IAAF World Youth Championships
Over 300 dancers filled the stadium in an opening ceremony that combined Cali’s flair for dancing with athletic performances.
The country’s salsa capital is also looking to make its name as the sporting capital of Colombia – and indeed America. With 149 nations and 1,200 athletes, it is the most countries that have ever attended a sporting event in the country.
Some of the young athletes were challenged by local press to get their hips moving, making valiant attempts to salsa on the track.
Andrés Botero, head of Coldeportes, addressed the crowd, “I want you to be seduced by the hospitality, enthusiasm and love of sport of the caleños, who are experts in hosting at the highest level.”
With 39 Colombian athletes competing, there were plenty of chances. Sadly, Colombia failed to win any medals, but with four spots in the discipline finals, the hosts still put in their best Athletics World Youth Championship performance.
Special guest Caterine Ibargüen reminded the young athletes that it was the same event in Poland in 1999 that drove her ambition and inspired her future success. “It was a very important competition for me, where I competed against so many athletes and gained a lot of experience.”
The international guests were impressed by what they found. IAAF presidential candidate, Sergey Bubka, (Ukrainian pole vaulter, Seoul 1988 Olympic gold medalist and six-time world champion) told The Bogota Post that the youth event lived up to senior meets in the heat of the struggle and their competitive spirit.
“Every day of the Championships was a highlight as the atmosphere was truly electric and friendly at the same time.” He added, “Moreover, all emotions here were so genuine and sincere.”
Just like Ibargüen, Bubka acknowledges the value of events like this for the lessons athletes can learn, “There was one very emotional moment which made Cali 2015 so special for me. Young German pole vaulter Tom-Linus Humann lent his poles to Vlad Malykhin from Ukraine who lost his baggage on his way to Cali. Vlad won the silver medal on the German’s poles while Tom-Linus, who did not qualify for the final, supported Vlad at the stadium.” He added that it was “a fantastic demonstration of friendship and sportsmanship which should be an example for every athlete.”
Bubka finished with strong recommendations for the development of his sport in Colombia; “What the country needs is to ensure all the stakeholders are ready to take the next steps. The 2015 IAAF World Youth Championships is the most important experience for Colombia in terms of organisation of major events. Now you have to clearly establish new goals – to host major athletics championships or the Diamond League meeting.”
He continues, “It needs the support of the government and partners. You have to build on the legacy of Cali 2015 step-by-step and day-after-day: adopting new education programs for judges, managers, athletics staff, bringing national competitions to the spotlight, cooperating with media and sponsors. It is very important to build a strong national competition system for all levels of athletics, so that athletes may progress from competing within their schools and villages to National Championships. The country surely needs star athletes like Caterine Ibargüen and Luis Fernando Lopez as role models to involve and motivate young athletes who took up athletics.”
For the full interview with IAAF presidential candidate Sergey Bubka see: Sergey Bubka: ‘I am sure Cali 2015 inspired thousands of Colombian and South American kids’