Twenty-five-year-old Venezuelan triple jumper Yulimar Rojas was just named the female athlete of the year by World Athletics Awards Dec. 5 during the streamed event alongside Swedish pole vaulter (male athlete) Mondo Duplantis. Rojas broke a 16-year-old world indoor record in the triple jump with a 15.43-meter leap in February of this year. She became the second South American female triple jumper to win Athlete of the Year in the last three years, joining Colombian Olympic champion Caterine Ibargüen. Rojas — who was born in Caracas — is now Venezuela’s first recipient of the prestigious athletics award.
“I honestly didn’t expect this, I really cannot believe it,” Rojas said, who received the Rising Star Award in 2017. “It is such a joy and I’m filled with happiness. Just being one of the finalists felt like winning to me; being nominated among other exceptional athletes was already a wonderful achievement.”
"The truth is I did not expect this, sorry but I really can't believe it."
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) December 5, 2020
While this win might have come as a surprise to her, her resume includes an Olympic silver medal (2016 Rio de Janeiro) and she’s also a two time World Champion (2017 London and 2019 Doha) and two time World Indoor Championship winner (2016 Portland and 2018 Birmingham) in Triple jump. Beyond her professional victories, she’s also openly lesbian and was called an LGBTQ trailblazer for her country considering the world of sports isn’t known to be welcoming to the community and gay marriage is illegal in heavily Catholic Venezuela.
“This victory means a lot to me and to all of those who work with me every day, everyone who gives me strength and motivation every day. And now, being the best athlete of the year is an additional inspiration for me for 2021. It is going to be a great year and I have a lot of ambition. This gives me a lot of strength to keep on track with my career,” she said during her speech.
The star athlete grew up in the eastern state of Anzoátegui in Venezuela in a “ranchito”, a house constructed of brick with a zinc roof that allowed rain to fall through, in a poor neighborhood. As her star began to rise she was able to move her family to better housing inspiring thousands in a country where 96 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty and 70 percent live in extreme poverty.
“Thank you for making this happen, not just for me, but for all my team, my coach, my manager, my family, my people. Thank you for making me part of the history of this sport as one of the best athletes in the world. This is proof that dreams do become reality.”