Jordan Díaz: The Cuban-Spanish Hurricane hits Rome

Posted by: Andy Benns

Cuba has dominated the youth and junior ranks of the triple jump for many years, the event having a long  tradition of excellence on the comparatively small Caribbean island since former men’s World Record  holder Pedro Pérez (17.40m in Cali, Colombia on 5 August 1971) and the list of leading Cuban-born athletes  in the discipline, both male and female, is extraordinary. Cuba has the second-highest number of medals  (all events) in the Americas at the Olympics, only behind the behemoth that is the United States and even  casual fans of the Games will be familiar with the blue and red bibs of Cuban hurdlers, jumpers and boxers  in particular. Javier Sotomayor was the dominant high jumper of the 1990’s and is still the World Record  holder, but the nation has not won a Gold in any athletics event at the Olympics since 2008 and the country  has been in a deepening socio-economic crisis since the COVID-19 pandemic, causing record numbers of  their citizens to flee abroad, including many of their leading athletes and sportspersons. 

The World Athletics U20 Championships (World Junior Championships until 2015) were won by  Pedro Pichardo in 2012, Lázaro Martinez in 2014 and 2016 and a third Cuban, Jordan Alejandro Díaz  Fortún, in 2018. Jordan Díaz was the reigning World Youth Champion from 2017, where he had set an  U18 World Record of 17.30m on 14 July 2017, at altitude in Nairobi, Kenya. He was only sixteen at the  time and jumped over a metre further than any other youth athlete that season, a sign of his prodigious 

talent. In June 2018 he furthered the youth record to 17.41m in Havana and Cubans were waiting for him  to come of age and return their nation to the senior medal podium, in the event they had come to think of  as their own.  

Leading Cuban triple jumper Pedro Pichardo had left for Portugal by this time (Díaz had been  training alongside him) and celebrated former youth star Lázaro Martinez was fading from view with his  then injury troubles, so Cubans were desperate for Díaz to be the one to claim that first elusive Olympic  Gold, perhaps in Tokyo 2020, a personal best of 17.49m in Camagüey in July 2019 good enough to see him  ranked sixth in the world, remarkably aged only eighteen. Perhaps the re-scheduling of the Games due to  the COVID-19 pandemic played a part, in addition to the chronic lack of funding for athletics in Cuba for  many years, but in June 2021 Díaz left his national team whilst in Spain for an Olympic qualifier (one of a  number to do so). Being lured away by the chance of a lucrative training contract and a better life, he chose  to miss the Olympics and pursue Spanish citizenship, breaking many Cuban hearts, not just in track and  field. 

Now under the guidance of Cuban-born long jump legend and leading horizontal jumps coach  Iván Pedroso in Guadalajara, Spain, as part of a training group that included women’s World Record holder  Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela and Cubans representing other nations, such as Alexis Copello of Azerbaijan,  Jordan Díaz gained Spanish citizenship in February 2022. This defection was timed for him to satisfy the  three-year waiting period from his defection in 2021 to just before the Paris Olympics in August 2024 and  he was signed by the famous Futbol Club Barcelona athletics team of Catalonia. He first claimed the Spanish  National Record in the same month he was granted citizenship, then took that mark to 17.87m on 26 June 

2022 in the national championships (he also managed a wind-assisted 17.93m in the same series), the then  joint 13th best performance of all time, but his 2023 season was to be hampered by injury. Having decided to follow the path that took Pichardo to Olympic and World titles via Portugal,  the now Spanish-citizen Díaz entered the 2024 season at the forefront of the next generation of triple  jumpers, along with Jamaican wonderkid Jaydon Hibbert, still only nineteen himself and with a world leading 17.75m on 1 June as all roads lead to the Paris Olympics in August. The European Athletics  Championships in June 2024 was to be his first international competition for Spain and he arrived in Rome,  Italy, full of confidence. The buzz around him had been growing – we had all been waiting some time to  see this former U18 phenomenon in a Spain jersey – and a strong start to the season showed that he had  put his injury problems behind him, with a European-leading 17.55m in Castellón on 22 May, neatly being the Spanish city where he had made his departure from the Cuban team three years previously. Under  Pedroso he had been working on his runway speed and final landing, yet it was his consistency that was  now catching the eye, exceeding 17.50m in three events before Rome. Pichardo was the reigning Olympic  and European Champion, as well as the 2022 World Champion and had covered 17.51m in his 2024  Diamond League debut in Xiamen, China in April, but few had reckoned on how much of a hurry Díaz was in, as he worked towards what he had long thought would be his career-defining moment in the Paris  Olympics. 

Pichardo jumped before Díaz and they both opened the final strongly, the Portuguese reaching  17.51m and the Spaniard responding with 17.56m in the first round, showing the rest of the comparatively  weak field that they were competing for third place only and this could well be a memorable showdown.  The temporarily constructed surface in Rome, which was raised some distance off the ground, quickly  showed how springy it could be, but no-one expected what was to follow. Pichardo’s second-round jump  was huge, measured at a National Record 18.04m and the furthest he had been since his 18.08m Personal  Best in Cuba on 28 May 2015, when he had yet to make his own leap across the Atlantic to represent a  Southern European nation. Díaz was not yet an 18m jumper, not yet an elite triple jumper, yet over a series  of four jumps, with a foul in round three, he improved his Personal Best to 17.96m. It was clear to the  spectators, particularly to their ears, that the surface was offering something significant to these jumpers,  with the hollow echo as they bounded down the runway sounding more like it should be in a gymnastics  arena, but no-one expected what came in round five when the hurricane struck.  

With a few forceful points of his right hand to set himself, he took off down the runway and landed  himself high in the record books. He made that fifth attempt as the Spanish record holder, a first-time  senior competitor who was still coming to terms with life as a professional athlete and finished it with the  third-farthest triple jump of all-time. Díaz knew it was good as he waited trackside for the official  confirmation, hands on his thighs and leaning forward expectantly, but did he really expect it to be officially  measured at 18.18m, only 11cm from Jonathan Edwards’ now almost mythical World Record from the  1995 World Championships? The Spaniard had what could well be the best second phase of his career,  floating as only the greatest triple jumpers have ever done and the improvements made under Pedroso have 

shown obvious and more notably early dividends. Pichardo could not respond on his sixth attempt and  despite Pedroso shouting “todavía queda, todavía queda” – there is still one left – he chose not to jump again.  Jordan Díaz had arrived in a veritable whirlwind of a performance. 

The Cuban-Spanish Hurricane began the 2024 season hoping to emulate the Cuban-Portuguese in becoming Olympic Champion, Pichardo the only former World Junior Champion to do so in their event.  Díaz is already a rarity in that he managed to jump further than his age – over 17m as a sixteen-year-old,  Pichardo nearly twenty before he cleared that distance for the first time in February 2013 – and the man  from Barcelona by way of La Habana has proven himself in some hurry. His series of jumps in Rome – 17.52m/17.82m/X/17.96m/18.18m – compares favourably with any from the greats, including Christian  Taylor’s efforts in the 2015 World Championships final in Beijing, China when he covered 18.21m and is  only bettered by the jumps of Edwards in Gothenburg, Sweden, which included consecutive World Records  at 18.16m and 18.29m. The 2024 Olympics triple jump final was already looking to be a strong field, with  the elder statesmen (Pichardo, 2023 World Champion Hugues Fabrice Zango of Burkina Faso and reigning  World Indoor Champion Martinez) pitted against the coming men (Díaz and wonderkid Hibbert), but the  Spaniard has turned the sport of triple jumping upside down.  

Pichardo took to social media to voice his displeasure that the electronic ruler was seemingly switched off on Díaz’s monster jump and whilst the credibility of the event or the distance has yet to be  officially reviewed, a growing rivalry is emanating between these two Cuban-born jumpers, the younger  man pithily sharing a series of crying cartoon faces in reply on his own social media. This was only the  second time in history that two jumpers had exceeded 18m in the same competition, the first being a  memorable Diamond League meeting in Doha, Qatar in May 2015 when Pichardo edged out Taylor, but  with a distance of 18.18m the Spaniard may already have a bigger target in Paris than Olympic Gold. In  Rome he took the Briton’s European Athletics Championship Record that had stood since August 1998  and as the third-farthest triple jumper in history, he remarked afterwards that “I feel nothing is impossible”.  So on to Paris we go, to fight for the biggest title in the triple jump and with a rivalry brewing between the  leading jumpers of the season to date, that could yet propel one to their own moment in time...

Written by Andy Benns, co-author of the best-selling Triple Jump Trailblazers published in 2023, which includes the acclaimed Harvey-Benns Method of athletics appraisal, fairly evaluating the performances of the greatest athletes throughout history.  Website:

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