There were no spectacular results or outstanding records during the 2017 National Athletics Championships, held March 14-17 in the Panamericano Stadium, to the east of Havana; a sports complex in desperate need of renovation, above all its synthetic track.
However, the deteriorated state of the facility didn’t seem to be the main reason for the overall modest performance by competitors.
Cuban athletics is going through a generational change and its few stars weren’t ready to compete following various recovery processes – including those of World triple jump silver medalist Pedro Pablo Pichardo, and 110 meters hurdles Olympic champion and former World record holder Dayron Robles – while others, such as World champions Denia Caballero (discus) and Yarisley Silva (pole vault), seemed to be easing themselves back into competition, having begun training only recently.
Two times Olympic bronze medalist and three times decathlon finalist, Leonel Suárez, and Yorgelis Rodríguez (Río 2016 heptathlon finalist), skipped their combined events to compete in only a few of the individual segments, where Rodríguez faired very well.
The fact is that authorities from the National Athletics Commission are more interested in seeing personal bests at the most important event of the year - in this case the World Championships in London this August, where athletes’ performance will be thoroughly evaluated - rather than at the beginning of the season.
Officials have also warned that there is no point meeting the minimum qualification scores for international competitions too early, given that the decision as to whether athletes make the final cut will depend on their ability to achieve these in the lead up to the World Championships, where they will be expected to do the same.
However, for many countries Cuban athletics represents a hotbed of model champions; and looking to benefit from such a high-level event, 21 competitors from five countries were invited to participate as guests; adding an international dimension to the Cuban competition. These included eight from Chile, six from Curaçao, five from Venezuela and one each from Mexico and Costa Rica.
Meanwhile Cuba once again fared well in the triple jump, where it took first, second and third place, even without the presence of Pichardo.
DÍAZ SURPRISES THE FAVORITES
Twenty-one year old triple jumper Andy Díaz from Havana stood out during the competition with a personal best of 17.40 meters, exceeding his previous record by 56 centimeters. The young athlete is being coached by Yoelbi Quesada, 1997 World Champion and 1996 Olympic bronze medalist.
Díaz beat favorites and last season’s World Junior Champions Lázaro Martínez (19 years old) and Cristian Nápoles (18) to take gold. Lázaro, who has consistently jumped over 17 meters since 2014 (17.24), also holds three World Junior titles.
However, this competition saw one of his most underwhelming performances, after incurring a foul on his best attempt, which looked set to beat Díaz’s, on overstepping the take-off board; finally having to settle for 17.05 meters amid strong winds. Meanwhile Nápoles set a new personal best of 17.27 meters to take the bronze and mount the podium alongside three men who leapt over 17 meters.
If this wasn’t enough 16-year-old Jordan Díaz from Havana showed notable progress, setting a new personal best of 16.66 meters, 20 centimeters more than his previous individual record.
This youngster is in no hurry, but rather needs time to adequately condition his muscles and ligaments in order to survive the high demands of this event.
Juan M. Echevarría from Camagüey led the long jump qualifying event with a score of 7.95 meters. The national champion seemed set to win the final with a jump of 7.92, however Echevarría was beaten by Maykel D. Massó from Santiago de Cuba, who made a leap of 7.93 meters on his sixth and final attempt.
Both Echevarría (18 years of age) and Massó (17) are promising young athletes, the latter World youth champion and winner of a ticket to the Olympic Games with a magnificent leap of 8.27 meters.
Another noteworthy performance in the men’s events came from Yordan O’Farrill, who won the 110 meters hurdles with a time of 13.33 seconds, after clocking 13.34 in the semifinals. The athlete from Camagüey’s latest performance represented an improvement on his 2016 Olympic time of 13.51. Meanwhile, Havana’s Roger V. Iribarne, who is currently in top physical form, set a time of 13.43 in the semifinals losing out to O’Farrill in the final after finishing in 13.48 seconds.
Likewise, sprinter Roberto Skyers, also from Camagüey, won an exciting race against rival Reynier Mena from Havana, taking the title in the 100 meters sprint. Both athletes clocked respectable times: 10.06 and 10.14 seconds respectively, while Harlyn Pérez came in third with a time of 10.27 seconds. These results would have been respectable personal records had it not been for a 3.2 meters per second tailwind.
However, all ran well in general, despite the poor state of the track, deteriorated from overuse. Mena matched his 10.17 record in the semifinals. The two athletes’ particular rivalry began when Mena previously beat Skyers (10.26) in February with a time of 10.24, in the latter’s first race after recovering from an injury.
Both are longstanding members of the Cuban team, together with Yaniel Carrero, César Ruiz and Reidis Ramos, among others. However, the interesting thing is that Carrero, Ruiz and Ramos have all been displaced by Harlyn Pérez, who competed alongside them in 2016 as an independent runner, but isn’t holding back this year after being selected for the national team.
Another notable result on the track was the win for Leandro Zamora, from Granma, in the 400 meters hurdles, beating favorite José L. Gaspar from Camagüey (50.65 and 50.05 in the semifinals) with a time of 49.94 seconds; coming in under 50 seconds for the first time.
YAIMÉ DOMINATES IN THE DISCUS THROW
The most outstanding performance in the women’s division came from discus thrower Yaimé Pérez from Santiago de Cuba, ranked fourth in the world and Pan American silver medalist, with a throw of 65.57 meters. Pérez was chosen as female athlete of the event, while triple jumper Andy Díaz received the distinction in the men’s category.
The stellar Denia Caballero, from Villa Clara, came in second with a throw of 64.08 meters, reflecting her late start to training. Yarisley Silva seems to be at the same stage, ending her competition with a modest leap of 4.40 meters in the pole vault.
Consistent performances by Arialis Gandulla from Cienfuegos and Rose M. Almanza from Camagüey saw the former win the 100 and 200 meters sprint with times of 11.33 and 23.44 seconds respectively. Meanwhile Almanza set a respectable record of 2:00.12 minutes to win the 800 meters, also triumphing in the 1,500m with a time of 4:16.00.
The final of the long jump was also fiercely contested, with the victory – by just one centimeter – going to Paula Álvarez from Villa Clara (6.59m), who beat Irisdaymi Herrera from Camagüey (6.58m); while third place went to heptathlete Yorgelis Rodríguez, who continues to progress in this sport with coach Gabino Arzola making certain adjustments to her technique.
This time Rodríguez, from Guantanamo, finished with a leap of 6.41 meters, an improvement on her 6.35 meter record set in 2014. Last year saw her reach a maximum of 6.25 meters, a modest performance which nonetheless contributed to her seventh place finish in the 2016 Olympic Games and new national heptathlon record with 6,481 points. Meanwhile, winners Paula and Irisdaymi averaged at 6.47 and 6.44 meters respectively.
There were three medal winners among the 21 visiting competitors including silver for Venezuelan Estefany Chacón in the Javelin (56.50m); bronze for her compatriot Geormis Jaramillo in the decathlon (7,603 points); and also bronze for Glenka R. Antonia from Curaçao (1.70m) in the high jump.
CHAMPIONS BY EVENT
Women: 100m: Arialis Gandulla (CFG-11.33v). 200m: Gandulla (CFG-23.44). 400m: Roxana Gómez (CFG-54.01). 800m: Rose M. Almanza (CMG-2:00.12). 1,500m: Almanza (CMG-4:16.00). 5,000m: Yudileyvis Castillo (SCU-17:08.21). 10,000m: Dailín Belmonte (SCU-34:59.9). 2,000m steeplechase: Milena Pérez (VCL-6:42.86-RN-RC). 100m hurdles: Greisys L. Roble (MAY-13.76). 400 m hurdles: Zurian Hechavarría (SCU-56-79). High jump: Yorgelis Rodríguez (GTM-1,85).Pole vault: Yarisley Silva (PRI-4,40). Long jump: Paula B. Álvarez (VCL-6.59v). Triple jump: Liadagmis Povea (PRI-14.28v). Shot put: Yaniuvis López (SCU-17.22). Discus: Yaimé Pérez (SCU-65.57). Hammer throw: Ayamey D. Medina (VCL-61.63). Javelin: Yulenmis Aguilar (GRA-58.90). Decathlon: Briander W. Rivero (ART-7,633). 10km race walk: Yuniabel Contreras (PRI-52:33). 4x100m relay: Cuba A, 45.34 4x400m relay: Cuba A, 3:38.34.
Men: 100m: Roberto Skyers (CMG-10.06v). 200m: Reynier Mena (HAB-20.79). 400m: Yoandys Lescay (LTU-45.65). 800m: Andy González (HAB-1:47.28). 1,500 m: Francisco R. Estévez (HAB-3:59.15). 5,000m: Jacinto Milanés (GRA-15:24.57). 10,000m: Yumier Fouman (GRA-31:53.20). 2,000m steeplechase: Alberto E. Carrero (VCL-6:14.78-RC). 110m hurdles: Yordan L. O’Farrill (CMG-13.33). 400m hurdles: Leandro Zamora (GRA-49.94). High jump: Luis E. Zayas (SCU-2.16).Pole vault: Eduardo Nápoles (SCU-5.00). Long jump: Maykel D. Massó (SCU-7.93). Triple jump: Andy Díaz (HAB-17.40). Shot put: Lázaro J. Acosta (CMG-17.27). Discus: Félix R. Valle (HAB-55.66). Hammer throw: Reinier Mejías (CMG-72.10). Javelin: Osmany Laffita (HOL-70.85). Heptathlon: Yusleidys Mendieta (HAB-5,779). 10km race walk: Ronaldo Hernández (GTM-44:14). 4x100m relay: Cuba A, 39.77. 4x400m relay: Cuba A, 3:05.63.