Africa: Athletics World Championships – Historic gold for Hugues Zango

Africa: Athletics World Championships - Historic Gold For Hugues Zango
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On August 21, 2023, Hugues Fabrice Zango made history by becoming the first athlete to win a gold medal at the World Athletics Championships, bringing Burkina Faso its first ever gold medal in athletics. At the Budapest World Championships in Hungary, the Burkinabe athlete secured the gold medal in the triple jump with a leap of 17.64m, surpassing his two main Cuban competitors.

“I came here solely for the gold, it’s the medal I’ve been missing!” These were the first words of Hugues Fabrice Zango upon his arrival in Budapest, Hungary, to participate in the World Athletics Championships. And indeed, the Burkinabe athlete accomplished his mission by clinching the only medal that was absent from his impressive record. With a jump of 17.64m, he outperformed his two main rivals in the final, Lazaro Martinez of Cuba who won the silver medal (17.41m) and Cristian Napoles (17.40m).

Despite the absence of his main competitor for the past four years, Portuguese athlete Pedro Pichardo, who defeated him in the last world championships in Eugene and in the Tokyo Olympics, Hugues Fabrice Zango had to contend with the threat of the two aforementioned Cuban athletes, and especially with the Jamaican sensation in the discipline, Jaydon Hibbert, the junior world champion and the top performer of the season.

This 18-year-old athlete, who made a splash in recent meetings by challenging the usual podium contenders in the discipline, set the tone for these championships with his outstanding performance in the qualifiers. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury during the final, just after his first attempt. Ultimately, it was through determination (as he demonstrated during his winning fifth attempt) and experience that Hugues Fabrice Zango finally secured his gold medal.

It is safe to say that the triumph of the Ouagadougou-born athlete in Hungary was well-deserved given his consistency in recent years, especially this season. As proof, in 2019 in Doha, he won the bronze medal, finishing behind Americans Christian Taylor and Will Claye. At the Eugene Championships in the United States in 2022, he won the bronze, with Portuguese athlete Pedro Pichardo surpassing him.

Furthermore, Hugues Fabrice Zango has never been in better shape than in this 2023 season. He began the season in February, winning the Paris meeting with a jump of 17.43m. With a season’s best of 17.81m in Doha last May, and a consistent performance with four jumps over 17.60m, his preparation for the 2023 World Championships went exactly as he had hoped.

He repeatedly mentioned this at the end of the Francophonie Games, held in early August in Kinshasa, where he won the gold medal, saying that based on his current form, “this year was the one.” And he proved himself right. As for Marthe Koala, a respectable 7th place finish, all that remains for this doctoral student at the University of Béthune is to go for the gold at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, to firmly establish himself among the world legends of his discipline.

The other Burkinabe athlete at the Budapest World Championships, Marthe Koala, did not win a medal, but she held her own in the final of the long jump event on Sunday, August 20. After qualifying for the final with a jump of 6.84m, the Burkinabe athlete finished in 7th place with a jump of 6.68m. Despite her hopes of a medal at the Hungary World Championships, following her gold medal-winning performance of 6.94m (a personal and games record) at the Francophonie Games, her jumps of 6.91m and 6.88m were only enough for the American Tara Davis-Woodhall to become the silver medalist and for the Romanian Alina Rotaru-Kottmann to secure the bronze medal.

Nevertheless, there is no reason to be discouraged by this performance from the former heptathlete, as emphasized by Missiri Sawadogo, the national technical director of the Burkina Faso Athletics Federation. “The logic has been respected. The ones who won are among the top 5 in the world. I am satisfied. Moreover, it was her first final and finishing among the top 7 in the world is very honorable,” he praised.

Marthe Koala was also delighted with her performance, which now opens the doors for her to participate in the major international long jump meetings. “Thanks to this 7th place, our country Burkina Faso can now participate in the Diamond League long jump events. It is an important step towards reaching the top 3 in the world,” she responded on her Facebook page.