Long jumper Christabel Nettey has followed up an outstanding indoor season with an equally impressive start outdoors. We chat to the Canadian about how she has thrived under the inspirational coaching of Dan ‘The Man’ Pfaff.
In her younger years, you would have struggled to pick out Christabel Nettey as the kid who would develop into a world-class long jumper. It didn’t help that she was overshadowed by the athletic exploits of her older sister Sabrina.
“She [Sabrina, who is older by 18 months] would beat everyone and I wasn’t as fast as she was,” explains Nettey, who admits that back then she preferred to hang out with friends rather than fully focus during training. “As a kid I was short and skinny, and Sabrina was muscular and tall.”
Yet aged around “13 or 14”, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants started to develop physically. She began to compete with greater enthusiasm, making finals as a sprinter, hurdler and long jumper.
Aged 16, Nettey qualified alongside her elder sibling for the 2007 IAAF World Youth Championships in Ostrava. There she earned a bronze medal for Canada in the medley relay, finished eighth in the 100m hurdles and 14th in the long jump (Sabrina made the semi-finals in the 100m).
Two years later Nettey, a keen volleyball and basketball player, secured long jump silver at the Pan American Championships in Trinidad & Tobago. She then opted to study and further her track career at Arizona State University.
“My father ideally wanted me to go to Stanford where my sister was, but I didn’t always want to be the little sister,” she explains. “Going to ASU I think I really lucked out. I worked with some good, knowledgeable coaches, like my running and hurdles coach Kenny McDaniel and Greg Kraft [former coach to four-time world long jump champion Dwight Phillips].”
Nettey learned from previous champs experiences to claim Commonwealth bronze in Glasgow last summer. Wait... does Glasgow have summer?
In 2012 a back injury hampered her attempts at qualification for the London Olympics. She re-emerged later that year with a fresh mindset, focusing on the long-jump rather than the sprints and determined to make the 2013 world champs team.
“I thought there is no reason why I can’t be in the team,” she explains. “I changed my entire lifestyle to be more focused. I was like a hermit. Unless you saw me in class or training you didn’t see me.”
An early season PB of 6.75m confirmed her improving technique, yet she struggled with nerves. In 2013 she claimed the Canadian title, but failed to make the final at the Moscow world champs.
Her next career move was vital. She chose to attend the World Athletics Center in Phoenix in the autumn of 2013 to be guided by coaching legend Dan Pfaff, who had led Greg Rutherford to 2012 Olympic gold in the long jump. There she noticed immediate differences in her training regime.
“At college the emphasis was on being really fit and running all day, whereas Dan has a much more efficient approach,” explains Nettey. “We are not running 500m reps every day because for the long jump I only need to run for 30m.
“At first I felt like I was not working hard enough, but by the time I got to the runway I felt very rhythmical and fluid and everything seemed to click.”
Though Nettey's 6.99m counts as a world lead, it wasn't good enough for the win in Eugene after Tianna Bartoletta jumped a huge but windy 7.11m
In 2014 she set a national indoor record of 6.62m in Albuquerque and outdoors she enjoyed her most consistent season so far, getting herself “in the mix” in most competitions. She also won Commonwealth bronze, though her performance in the alien Glaswegian conditions left her wonting.
“I was grateful I got the bronze but I always want to be a competitor that fights back, and I felt I didn’t do that,” says Nettey, who occupied gold medal position after two rounds. “I am also used to training in sunny weather every day where I never see rain.”
Nettey moved up another notch during the 2015 indoor campaign. In Stockholm – despite nursing a tender hamstring and in only her second competition of the season – she leapt a monster 6.99m, the world lead and the 18th best jump of all time.
“I don’t really remember landing, just that the crowd were going mad,” she recalls. “I was trying not to get too excited and then when I saw it was 6.99m, I lost my mind and I started screaming.”
Technically in control on both the runway and take-off, Nettey feels more confident than at any other stage of her career. Outdoors she has already jumped three of the five best jumps of 2015, including a PB 6.99m at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meet at the weekend.
“I’m excited heading into the outdoor season about what I can do,” says Netty, whose sister Sabrina leapt a best long jump of 6.05m last year.
With her stock rising on the circuit, and with championships medal success under her belt, the 24-year-old has identified two competitions as her main 2015 goals.
“I have the Pan American Games [in Canada] and world championships where medalling will be more important than the actual distance.”