No limits set for precocious long jump star Furlani with Jerusalem approaching

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  • No limits set for precocious long jump star Furlani with Jerusalem approaching

Sometimes you catch a big one. It’s not about luck, more about talent, skill and timing. In Savona, Italy, earlier this year, that’s exactly what happened for Mattia Furlani, the 18-year-old sprinting down the runway, exploding off the board, and landing in the sand a whopping 8.44m away.

He bounced out of the pit with a mixture of shock and elation, his hands on his head as he waited for the distance to be confirmed. But athletes always know. When the distance flashed up, Furlani thumped his chest, pointed at the ground, as if announcing to the long jumping world: I have arrived.

The only annoyance? The jump was aided by a 2.2m/s wind, marginally over the limit for record purposes. Given slightly calmer conditions, Sergey Morgunov’s world U20 record of 8.35m would surely have fallen. Not that it’s a massive deal, given Furlani will still be U20 all of next year, with that mark, and so much more, firmly on his horizon.

In the week ahead, though, he has a more pressing concern: winning long jump gold at the European Athletics U20 Championships in Jerusalem.

Rewind to Jerusalem 2022

Furlani has fond memories of the Givat Ram Stadium, having announced his talent to the world there at last year’s European Athletics U18 Championships. He won gold in the high jump (2.15m) and long jump (8.04m), the latter an especially impressive mark given he only began training for that event a few months before.

“That was one of the best events of my life so I want to return with much more experience,” he says. “The last year was an amazing year.”

There’s an old joke that the best way to ensure sporting success is by choosing your parents wisely, and there’s certainly truth in jest for Furlani, whose ability is a product of nature and nurture.

His father, Marcello, was a high jumper who cleared 2.27m back in 1985, while his mother, Khadidiatou Seck, is a sprinter of Senegalese origin. Mattia’s older sister, Erika, is a 1.94m high jumper who won world U20 silver in 2013 and European U23 bronze in 2017, while his older brother Luca is a national-level sprinter and long jumper.

Mattia grew up in Marino, just outside Rome, and his first sporting love was basketball, which he played from the age of eight to 13. It’s a sport that both first identified and developed his outstanding jumping ability, with Furlani clearing 2.10m at the age of just 15. These days, he studies at Istituto Professionale Socio Sanitario in Rieti, where those in charge know all about his gifts.

“I have never seen a boy with this talent and such good feet,” Alberto Milardi, technical director of Studentesca Rieti, told Corriere della Sera last year. “We set no limits.”

Mattia’s chief coach is his mother, who is responsible for his overall physical conditioning, while his father offers specific technical advice.

“We have very separate tasks and roles and coach him very harmoniously,” Khadidiatou said at the World U20 Championships in Cali last year. “He always finishes every session and sometimes even does more than what he’s asked to do. he’s a very coachable athlete, a very strong athlete mentally, extremely determined. He has his own targets and we try to help him reach them.”

Putting the high jump to one side 

Furlani was not at his best in Cali last year, clearing 2.05m in the high jump final to finish eighth and jumping 7.76m in the long jump final, finishing seventh. In the winter, he went back to work harder than ever, making the tough decision to leave the high jump behind – at least for now.

“For now I want to only stay in long jump, the high jump is too complicated with technique, too different to the long jump, and for now I only specialise in one,” says Furlani, who describes his overall approach as “very different to last year.”

In what way?

“I do more training,” he says. “But I want to respect my biological growth. With speed, I improved a lot. With nutrition, I improved. I (gained) one more kilogram of muscle. With time, I want to develop much (more) power and to jump far.”

Furlani still has one year left at school before he’ll come to a crossroads, and says he isn’t sure which direction he’ll take then.

What’s certain is that he’s on a great trajectory right now. In June, weeks after that breakthrough jump in Savona, he jumped a wind-legal 8.24m to take victory at the FBK Games in Hengelo, his first win at a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting, and unlikely to be his last.

A fortnight later, he was part of the Italian team that took first division glory at the European Athletics Team Championships in Silesia, cheered on by one of his idols, Gianmarco Tamberi. Furlani jumped 7.97m to finish second to Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglou of Greece. Rubbing shoulders with such giants of the sport was reminder of how far he’s come in a short space of time.

“One year ago, I can’t imagine being here with the best jumper in the world,” he said. “But I’m here.”

Furlani says winning the European U20 long jump title is “the objective of this year” and that he has “good memories” of the stadium in Jerusalem. He plans to follow that up in Budapest with his debut at the World Athletics Championships.

“But that’s only (for) experience,” he says. “My hope this year is Jerusalem, and I want to jump far.”

Relax, jump and enjoy

Furlani is a long way clear of his nearest competitor based on season’s bests, but he knows medals aren’t handed out for such things. He has to show up, get it right, do what he does best. There may be pressure, but the Italian is not one to worry about these things, and nor is his mother. What does she say to him before he takes to the runway?

“She only says, ‘relax, jump, and enjoy,’” he says.


As she put it in Cali last year: “We are currently building his base for the future, brick by brick, and what he is creating at this very young age is the basis that will take him very, very far.”

Week by week, jump by jump, her prediction is coming true.

Cathal Dennehy for European Athletics

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