Present Olympics Athletes >> Irving Saladino
- Date of birth
World Championships (1 medal - 1 gold)
- Long jump: 1st (2007)
World Indoor Championships (1 medal - 1 silver)
- Long jump: 2nd (2006)
Pan American Games (1 medal - 1 gold)
- Long jump: 1st (2007)
The Panama Kangaroo
Irving Saladino showed the mark of a true champion at the 2007 world championships when he wrested the long jump gold from the hands of Italian rival Andrew Howe with a last-gasp gold medal leap.
Clearing a distance of 8.57m the 24-year-old beat his own personal best, the Latin American record, won the gold and made himself favourite to do so again when the hostilities get underway in Beijing in August 2008.
Lesser competitors could have wilted in Osaka. Saladino had already cleared 8.46m and with defending champion America's Dwight Phillips marooned on 8.30m he was on track for gold when the 22-year-old Italian passed him with a jump of 8.47m.
With his following jump the lad from Panama broke the records as well as the will of his young rival and the two are set to continue their exciting new rivalry.
Back home in Panama, half the nation was glued to his drama, including President Martín Torrijos, who promptly named the youngster a sporting ambassador.
Latin American gold
On his return home he was paraded around his home city of Colon (Columbus) 80km east of the capital. The media had found a nickname for the nation's hope of a first ever long jump champion: 'The Kangaroo'.
Saladino has been training in the Brazilian city of Sao Paolo since 2004 where he is coached by Nelio Moura, who has gradually brought him on to a series of ever more prestigious wins.
There was a silver medal at the Moscow world indoor championships in 2006, a gold at the Iberian championships at Puerto Rico the same year and more gold at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
He was discovered at 17 by local coach Florencio Aguilar who led him to the Athens Games in 2004
Ill fortune saw him finish last in the finals due to an injury and on his return home the coach and budding athlete decided together he'd have a better chance of it in Brazil.
Moura now believes Saladino could go on to break the Mike Powell world record of 8.95m set in Tokyo in 1991!
And he warmed for the Beijing Games with a stunning leap just weeks before the gold medal battle with a massive jump of 8.73m in May 2008, the ninth longest jump of all time.
The mark also won Saladino his 21st straight competition but his straek came to a shuddering halt at the opening Golden League meeting in Berlin on June 1 2008 where a series of mistakes in his run-up resulted in a poor seventh place finish.
The 'Kangaroo' now takes the place of the recently retired Cuban and 2000 Olympic champion Ivan Pedroso as the continent's number one long jumper and he will be attempting to win Panama's first Olympic medals since 1948 when Lloyd La Beach grabbed bronze in the 100m and 200m races in London.
Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.