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A British track star jumps through a tough decade

Ex-Cuban Yamilé Aldama, an Olympic triple jumper, struggled for years to become a British citizen and deal with family adversity. 

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent / July 25, 2012



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She calls it her "decade from hell." Yamilé Aldama, who had vaulted to the top echelons of sport as a triple jumper, was in a bleak place. A recent émigré to Britain from her native Cuba, she watched in horror as her Scottish husband was imprisoned on drug charges and her long-desired application for citizenship to Britain stalled. She was a world-class athlete suddenly alone, destitute, and without a country.

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Today, 10 years later, Ms. Aldama is excitedly preparing for the Olympics in her adopted homeland – as one of Britain's best hopes for gold. It has been a long and arduous journey for the 39-year-old known as "Yami" – one through which athletics has been her constant lodestar.

In Cuba, where sport is promoted as a "right of the people," as Fidel Castro has put it, Aldama was sent to a special government-run boarding school for athletes.

After she ascended to national stardom – winning a silver medal at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Spain, and a fourth place at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – the Cuban authorities awarded her a car and an apartment. They also, as is customary, siphoned off her cash winnings.

It was not this, however, that made Aldama immigrate to Britain in 2001. She married her Scottish husband, Andrew, soon after meeting him, and his imprisonment two years later came as a devastating shock. Aldama did not even tell her family what had happened for a year. Dependent upon prize money and sponsorship to survive, she persisted with her training, her baby in a pram at the side of the track. Her longtime coach, Frank Attoh, whom she has called her "rock," kept her going, jiggling the infant on his hip when he was cranky and urging her on.

Amazingly, during this period, Aldama's athletic performance improved. She has said that her struggles gave her strength and forced her to focus. In 2003 she topped the world rankings. But, as the 2004 Athens Olympics approached, Aldama had no country to represent. Cuba considered her a defector and a British passport still eluded her, despite her many appeals to the government.

In January 2004, Sudan, keen to inspire its people with the example of international athletes after its civil war, offered Aldama a passport. She represented the country in Athens, finishing fifth, and won gold two consecutive years at the African Championships.

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