Tori Pena is from Los Alamitos in California and is competing for Ireland in the pole vault at this month’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
It will be a second Olympics for the 29-year-old and former American College star. She was also a member of the Irish team at the London 2012 Games.
The Californian of Irish extraction has represented Ireland at every major athletics championship since declaring for Ireland in 2010. She will also fly the Finn Valley Athletic Club and Donegal flags at the Games.
Los Alamitos is a small city in Orange County, in the state of California. The holder of an American and Irish passport, she qualified for Irish citizenship through her Donegal-born grandmother.
“Her grandmother was Angela Coyle who hailed from the Muff/Burnfoot area of Donegal and also has strong connections with Derry.
“Angela Coyle married a US army service man, who was based in Derry, during the second World War and emigrated to the US West Coast after the war,” explained Irish Track and Field team manager, Patsy McGonagle.
Tori was brought up in a very Irish home and was immersed in Irish culture. She was a champion Irish dancer in her younger days and competed at a number of World Dancing Championships.
Her very first visit to Ireland was to Killarney in Kerry, to compete at the 2003 World Dancing Championship.
Tori was a top pole vaulter at college and was a regular medal winner on the highly competitive University circuit.
Tori lives in Huntington Beach and is a graduate of Edison High School and the University of California in Los Angeles from where she graduated with a degree in International Development Studies.
She became an Irish citizen in 2010. And it was then she came in contact with Irish Athletics team manager and well known Finn Valley AC coach Patsy McGonagle.
She joined Finn Valley and made the Irish team for the 2010 European Athletics championship.
“She came with a big reputation at College level in the US and from a strong Irish background,” Patsy McGonagle told the Democrat.
“After she became an Irish citizen and I took her back to Donegal with me, she stayed for some time and I recall she attended a Donegal game in O’Donnell Park.
“She won an Irish pole vault championship in 2010 and set a new Irish record of 4.15 metres.
“That was the first of six Irish titles and she has also reset the record a number of times since. The record which she holds now stands at 4.60 metres.
“In all she has competed in the last seven Irish championships and has won six of them.”
Tori also made the qualification and competed in London 2012.
“Basically she has competed in every Irish championship and major international championships, including World Championships and London 2012, since she declared for Ireland.
“But as of yet she has not got among the medals.
“Her recent highest vault is 4.35 metres at the European Championships in Amsterdam. However, if she achieves 4.60 metres in Rio she will make it to the finals, though there is serious competition out there.”
The current world record stands at 5.06 metres set by Yelena Isinbayeva from Russia in Zurich in August of 2009. The Olympic record stands at 5.05 metres also set by Isinbayeva in Beijing while 4.75 metres won gold in London in 2012. Jennifer Stuczynski from America won the gold in London; Yarisley Silva from Cuba won the silver in London with Isinbayeva relegated to the bronze position with a jump of 4.70 metres.
If Tori can reach her personal best or even jump a little higher she will be in the ballpark.
“Her goal is to reach the final and after that we are in bonus territory,” said the Irish manager
Tori did not join the rest of the Irish Athletic team at their pre-Olympics training camp in Brazil.
She has instead, with the approval of the Irish manager, opted to train under the supervision of her own personal coach at a camp in Phoenix, Arizona.
She is due to fly direct from Phoenix into Rio and join up with the Irish team in the days before the start of the pole vault competition.