CUBA has played a leading role over the years in the World Indoor Athletics Championships, with three of its star competitors holding records for the event.
The country can boast of having always won a medal in the 15 biennial Championships since 1987, plus the Paris 1985 competition, recognized as the first and included in the statistics.
Cuba is, of course, not a cold country, on the contrary, and has never needed indoor facilities to protect its athletes from the weather, but we were invited; did well; and continued in this variant, planning on two high performance events a year, as opposed to the previous single event.
A review is in order, on the eve of the 16th edition, scheduled March 17-20 in Portland Oregon, at a time when Cuba’s honors are not expected to reach previous levels.
TWO CRITICAL ABSENCES
Cuba’s prospects were suddenly altered recently when the absence of two of our strongest contenders was announced: pole vaulter Yarisley Silva and triple jumper Pedro Pablo Pichardo.
Yarisley is the Sopot 2014 champion, while Pedro Pablo won a bronze medal in the event.
Both improved their records significantly during the 2015 season – she taking the outdoor title in Beijing, and he the silver. Both were champions at the Toronto 2015 Pan Americans, with impressive performances. Yarisley made the highest vault of the year (4.91m) and Pedro Pablo, the second longest triple jump (18.08m).
These accomplishments no doubt make both of them serious candidates to win Olympic medals in Río de Janeiro 2016, so it is logical that they chose to protect themselves against injury, given that this is every athlete’s ultimate goal.
Yarisley did not want to risk making the competitive effort without adequate training, although this means not defending her title. Pedro Pablo preferred to give a minor ankle injury more time to heal before chancing complications.
Thus, Cuba is being represented in the hurdles events by Yordan O’Farrill and Jhoanis Portilla - who competed in Sopot 2014 without advancing to the finals – and Rose Mary Almanza, attending the World Championships for the first time to run the 800 meters. This is the country’s smallest delegation in the history of our participation.
World indoor events are designed for jumpers and sprinters in the shortest races - the 60 and the 200 meters; while only the shot put is thrown indoors. The dimensions of stadiums would need to be expanded for other races and events.
Cuba’s history of success has, in fact, been precisely in such events, establishing records which have been difficult to beat.
SOTOMAYOR, PEDROSO & ROBLES
Cuban athletes have distinguished themselves throughout the event’s three decades. The first to establish a record was Javier Sotomayor, in the 1980s.
The so-called Prince of the Heights jumped over the 2.43 meter bar in Budapest, March 4, 1989. Since then, 27 years ago, this record established in Hungary's capital still stands, for the World Championships and as the all time indoor high.
In the 90s, it was Iván Lázaro Pedroso who became Cuba's powerhouse in the indoor championships, winning gold medals five consecutive times.
He started at the Toronto 1993 4th World championships, and maintained the title through Lisbon 2001, where he defeated Spain's stellar Yago Lamela, who died too soon in 2014. From the Americas, to Europe and Asia he ruled long jump pits, and in the Japanese city of Maebashi in 1999, set a record of 8.62 meters which has yet to be surpassed.
Cuban athletes left their mark on sprinting at World events during the first decade of this century, as the country had in the 1960s. (In the interim, Andrés Simón took top honors in Budapest 1989, although without establishing a new record.)
The talented if controversial Dayron Robles won the 60 meter hurdles, a technically challenging event, in the Qatari capital of Doha in 2010, with a time of 7.34 seconds.
He held the outdoor world record for the 110 meters, at the time, with his 12.89 seconds, and came close to the indoor record of 7.30, established by Britain's Colin Colin Jackson.
MEDALS & POINTS
Beyond the records, the participation of Cuban track and field athletes has been outstanding, with over 173 competing over the years, winning 47 medals (16 gold, 17 silver and 14 bronze), thus securing the 7th spot on the all time medal chart among countries.
Another 65 Cubans have placed between fourth and eighth, and a total of 112 have made the finals, compiling 540 points to win the country the fifth spot in terms of points in the ranking maintained by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
Cuba's individual results hold a special place. Among the three stars mentioned above, Pedroso won five gold medals in seven appearances in the long jump.
Sotomayor has won the most, a total of six in eight events (four gold, one silver and one bronze) to contribute 53 points. Robles has a silver he won in Moscow 2006, in addition to his 2010 gold, although his predecessor Anier García did better, winning gold in Sydney 2000 and Paris 1997, plus silver medals in both Lisbon 2001 and Birmingham 2003.
Triple jumper Yoandri Betanzos has also won three medals, a silver and two bronzes.
Among Cuban women, only two have won two medals. Triple jumper Yargeris Savigne won the title in Valencia 2008 and a silver in 2010.
Longer ago, in 1995, Aliuska López impressed the world with her victory in the 60 meter hurdles. She had won a bronze in 1991, in Seville.
Since Cuba's highest ranked athletes won't be competing, hopes for continuing this impressive history, at the 2016 World Championships in Portland, Oregon, in the northwestern region of the United States, are riding on three emerging figures.