by Hugues Fabrice Zango

The first day I went to the stadium, I asked my coach a question: “Who is the best in the world at the triple jump?”

It was 2011, I was 18 years old, and knew absolutely nothing about the event. But my physical education teacher back in Burkina Faso had told me I had a talent for jumping, so I decided to give it a try.

My coach told me the best in the world was Christian Taylor, who, at the age of 21, jumped 17.96m to win the world title that year in Daegu.

That’s impossible, I told myself. My best was 12 metres. How could he jump five metres farther?

I started researching the event, learning what training and technique is required for proper sprinting and jumping. I asked my coach non-stop questions, telling him I wanted to be the best.

But the gap between me and Taylor was really, really far. I set myself a goal: Next year I will jump 13 metres, the year after 14. Every year I will improve by one metre so in 2017, I’ll be able to jump 17.

That’s a lot easier said than done, but in the first year I improved to 15 metres. It took another three years for me to break the 16-metre barrier, and another three years after that to go beyond 17.

That happened in 2018, and at the end of that track season I began working with a triple jump legend: Teddy Tamgho.

Hugues Fabrice Zango ()

He’s more than just an 18-metre jumper. As a coach, he really knows his event and loves it, which is so important. He searches all the time for new ways to improve and no two athletes he coaches get the same training programme. It’s really specific to the athlete.

With Teddy, we are also working on the mind. He has a psychologist working with his group and everything is done that we can to create a great performance.

In the triple jump you need everything: speed, strength, power and composure. You can jump high and far, but you also need control and great strength to manage your jump. It’s like a unity of the Olympic motto: faster, higher, stronger.

All three came together for me in Doha last year. I went to the World Championships as an underdog, and not many expected me to win a medal with Christian Taylor, Will Claye and Pedro Pablo Pichardo all in the field.

But in the final, I went farther than ever before, 17.66m, to win bronze. It was the first medal ever for Burkina Faso at the World Championships and the first major medal in any Olympic sport.

Hugues Fabrice Zango ()

When I landed home at the airport, there was really big crowd and everybody was so happy. We sang the national anthem together, a memory I’ll never forget.

It was a moment that went beyond sport, a cultural celebration that opened the minds of many sectors of my country.

Of course, now there’s a certain expectation. Burkina Faso has never won an Olympic medal but I don’t feel under pressure this year because of that. I’m really cool, every day I try to relax and just take things how they come.

But when I pass a certain level, my attitude has always been that I don’t want to go back. Earlier this month I jumped longer than ever before, 17.77m in Paris, but what I tell myself now is that this has to be the new normal. I don’t want to go back to 17.20m, I have to be at 17.50m and above all the time.

Persistence is the key in this sport, and that’s what I tell young people. It's as true now as it was when I was jumping 12 metres at the age of 18.

Back then all this seemed impossible, but after Doha I made a promise to my country that I’ll bring home an Olympic medal from Tokyo. I think I’m ready to do that.