José Barrientos, a human bullet in the 100-meter competition, opened the eyes of the whole world to show Cuba’s potential in athletics when, as early as 1928, he run that distance in 10.2 seconds. However, the mark was never homologated.
That is the reason why we are sure when we say that athletics is one of the most emblematic sports of the island. Even before the triumph of the revolution, in 1959, there were other gifted athletes that showed their qualities mostly in Pan-American and Central American and Caribbean Games. Those were the cases of Rafael Fortún and Ángel García, runners of 100 and 400 meters respectively.
Fortún became triple gold medalist in the classic athletics test during the first three continental games, from that of Buenos Aires , in 1951; García defeated the world champion of the 400 meters at the time, the Jamaican George Rodhen, in the Central American and Caribbean Games taking place in Mexico 1954.
Cuban athletes began to conquer Olympic Gold medals from Montreal ’76 and the figures, up to the Sydney Olympics, totaling seven gold, ten silver, and ten bronze medals. Only boxing surpasses such figures with an impressive total of 32-15-8.
Nevertheless, the first Olympic medal was a silver one won by Enrique Figuerola in the 100 meters during the games held at Tokio in 1964.
Such result took place in a very even run between the American Bob Hayes, stout and notably tall, and the Cuban, small but big-hearted and displaying and enviable reaction in the start. Final results: Hayes, 10.01 seconds; Figuerola, 10.02.
From that moment on, when speaking about athletics, we make more reference to outstanding athletes that have been active for several years and we speak less about the number of medals obtained by them. In the 1970’s, the world witnessed the ascension of a man who made history in athletics: Alberto Juantorena Danger, one of those exceptionally gifted athletes whose deeds still survive in time.
The tall runner, who was born in the southeastern province of Santiago de Cuba, was the first in the list of Cuban Olympic champions and he did it exceptionally well for a start because he won the Montreal’76 finals of 400 and 800 meters . In the latter, he was able to establish two world records.
No runner, neither before nor after that, has been able to equal Juantorena’s triumphs. Known then as the “elegant of the tracks”, no one has ever win in these two tests that were considered up to 1976 too different to overcome at the same time because the 400 meters were comprised among the speed tests while the 800 were the beginning of the resistance ones.
Upon his arrival to Cuba , he was received like a hero. Thousands of fans all over the globe stared at the prowess of this man who became, from that moment on, one of the most important paradigms of national and international athletics.
His example has inspired figures who have chosen the tracks to develop their natural talent for sports.
Alejandro Casañas Ramírez is another of those who became a prominent figure in those splendorous years of athletics owing to his consistent performance in the 110 meters hurdles.
His performance in the Olympic final of Montreal was impressive because he had to work hard to obtain the silver medal with a time of 13.33 seconds, a little behind the French Guy Drut (13.30).
That was not his best performance, however. A year after that, in the World University Games of Sofia, he walked into history when he established a world record in 110-meter hurdles, stopping the chronographs in the amazing time of 13.21 seconds.
Casañas was aware that his career could be glorious because a barely a year before that, in the occasion of the Barrientos in memoriam tournament, held in Havana, he had marked 13 exact seconds, but it was not valid in the end because the anemometer read 2 m/s of wind speed in the same direction.
In the 1990’s, there were three figures that stood out in the history of athletics in Cuba . They are Ana Fidelia Quiroz, Javier Sotomayor, and Iván Pedroso.
Javier Sotomayor has established three consecutive world records in high jump. Many people believe that his world records, 2.44 m established in indoor tournaments and 2.45 in outdoor ones, will still be there for some more years because they are very difficult to beat.
Sotomayor is Olympic champion of Barcelona ’92 and became world champion in 1997. He has been indoor world champion four times and has been chosen several times Best Cuban Athlete.
Ivan Pedroso has been crowned outdoor champion five times and has been the gold medalist in four indoor tournaments. He has established one of the best marks in long jump and, despite the numberless lesions, surgeries undergone, and all the time he has been away from all competitions, he returned to the field in the summer of 2003 and challenging the years she managed to be among the finalists of the Athens Olympic Games.
Ana Fidelia Quiroz debuted with the national track and field team in 1983. From then on, she demonstrated she was an inborn champion. In the 1990’s she experienced a quick ascension that took place mostly in the 400 meters , although she successfully run the 800 meters too.
Considered to be among the fastest runners of all times, she won the bronze medal of Barcelona ’92 and the silver one of Atlanta’96.
In a home accident, Ana Fidelia Quiroz suffered burns in about 37 percent of her body. Owing to that, her life was in danger, but the painstaking efforts of science and her will were stronger and she could happily return to the competitions. In addition to the sub-title in Atlanta , she crowned herself in the world championships held in Gottemburg’95 and Athens’97. (If you want to know more about Ana Fidelia Quiroz, go to SPORT DEEDS)
During the Olympic Games held at Athens stood out the javelin thrower Osleidys Menéndez and the shot-putter Yumisleidys Cumbá, both having won Gold Medals, while the hammer thrower Yipsi Moreno, considered favorite in her discipline, won a Silver Medal. Cuba ’s medal chart was enriched by other two Bronze Medals won by Yunaika Crawford (hammer) and Anier García (110- meter hurdles).