Back in 2013, Luis Rivera brought home Mexico’s first ever world championship medal in a field event. Two years on and looking ahead to another world championships, the long jumper has built the belief that he can add to that tally. 

When Luis Rivera went to London 2012, he was like an excited athletics devotee, who had landed a dream backstage pass.

“I walked out behind my flag at the opening ceremony. I took pictures of the other athletes as a fan. I enjoyed every single day,” the 27-year-old admits.

Unfortunately, the experience did not inspire the man from Agua Prieta to glory. Having struggled with injuries in the lead-up to London, his best of 7.42m placed him a modest 32nd in qualification.

It had been a long road to London for Rivera. He was introduced to athletics as an 11-year-old by his soccer coach, who was impressed by the youngster’s speed. Athletic ability runs in the family: his father, also Luis, was a former volleyball player who used to jump over cars; younger brother Edgar, 23, competed in the high jump at the 2013 world champs; and other younger brother Adrian, 19, trains with Luis in the long jump. Call it the Mexican jumping gene.

Luis made his international debut in the triple jump at the 2003 World Youth Championships in Sherbrooke, finishing 19th. A year later he graduated to the long jump and in 2005 crossed the border to study and train at Central Arizona College.

Arriving unable to speak a word of English, he initially found life tough. After mastering the language through an intensive programme of Family Guy and The Simpsons marathons, he gradually adapted to his new environment. He also improved his long jump PB from 7.17m to 7.60m.

Luis Rivera ()

“To win bronze was a great feeling. It showed I was now a real contender.”

His career stepped up another notch when he switched to the University of Arizona in 2007 to start an industrial engineering degree. In Tucson he was coached by Sheldon Blockburger – coach to world and Olympic high jump silver medallist Brigetta Barrett – and exposed to a more “professional” environment.

“I started having physio and massage for the first time,” Rivera says. “I started regularly travelling to meets by airplane. I was really excited to be there.”

In 2009 he claimed the notable scalp of decathlon demigod Ashton Eaton in the long jump to win the Pac-10 title in Eugene. He graduated in 2010, with his long jump PB now up to 7.95m. Rivera then returned to Mexico to further his education at the Tecnologico de Monterre. There, he hooked up with his current coach Francisco Javier Olivares.

“As a former jumper he really understands the event,” explains Rivera. “He knows a lot about the physiology of the body and we have a really good communication.”

A knee tendon injury ambushed his ambitions in 2011, but in 2012 he made a big leap forward by cracking 8 metres for the first time and soaring out to a personal best of 8.22m in Walnut in April. Rivera credits the improvement to a change in mindset.

“I was prepared for 2012 to be my last year unless I made the Olympics,” he says. “I needed to jump well, so this made me believe I could jump far.”

An injury sustained in Madrid a little under a month out from the Games hampered his ability to perform in London. However, he left the British capital with a newfound mental resilience.

“My coach, my brother, my family and friends may believe I can be the best long jumper in the world, but unless I believe it, it is never going to happen,” he says. “From that point on I changed my thinking to believe I was one of the best long jumpers in the world.

“You grow as an athlete and as a person and I came out of the [London Olympic] stadium thinking I want to come back and do better at the [2013] World Championships.”

Competing regularly in Europe for the first time in 2013 saw that confidence materialise. He leapt a national record 8.30m in Poland in June and at the World University Games in Kazan stunned home favourite Aleksandr Menkov with a monster new national record of 8.46m – the second best jump in the world that year – watch his leap above.

“As soon as I got out of the pit and the one flag was raised there was an explosion of excitement and emotion,” he recalls.

He moved on to the Moscow World Championships where he secured bronze with 8.27m in a close-fought competition. For Rivera, it represented the pinnacle of his career so far.

“To win bronze was a great feeling because I’m sure a lot of people thought I was just a Mexican with one jump [in Kazan],” says Rivera. “It showed I was now a real contender. To win a world bronze was bigger than my world universities gold because the world champs have the best of the best.”

Last year a torn meniscus hampered his campaign. As he is still working back to full fitness, Rivera does not plan to jump indoors, but is optimistic of returning for the summer season.

“The main focus is, of course, Beijing. And the Pan American Games [in Canada in July] is a big deal for my country.”

One thing now is certain – whatever he goes on to achieve, he won’t lack belief.