Manrique Larduet is 19 years old. His face is full of a youthful exuberance, but his eyes are voracious, revealing an uncommon gymnast with ambition, intent on reaching the highest levels of his sport internationally.
Within his usual environment, he is called "The Machine," a nickname he has embraced, and uses on social networks and among teammates.
Sitting in a window at the National Sports School, his home for the last decade, the gymnast from Santiago de Cuba comments, "Since I was nine, I've seen more experienced athletes train, and my only thought has been to function like a machine. Now I say that those of us in this group who have returned hope to Cuban gymnastics, are a war machine."
This reporter found Larduet on a window sill, interrupting him on the way to a brief rest, after finishing one more of his training sessions focused on preparing, finally, for his first competition in nine months.
He spoke to me of the future, projects, challenges, always looking out the window, toward the horizon, inevitably reaching his experience at the Río de Janeiro Olympics.
"They are moments I will never forget. I hurt myself during a floor exercise, but I didn't say anything to Professor Carlos Gil. I only told him when I realized that it continued to bother me, when I practiced the pommel horse," Larduet recalled.
"It was a ruptured tendon in my left leg, I couldn't believe it, but it prevented me from making my dream come true. I was ready to win a medal of some kind, despite not having a solid foundation in training for the floor exercise, the vault, or the rings. In the end, all I saw of Río was the Village. They brought me breakfast in bed; they carried me to the trainings; I wouldn't wish it on anyone," he explained, undefeated, preferring to recall the good memories.
"Amidst all of that, gymnasts from other countries were very concerned; they encouraged me. Plus, I remember they advised me not to try and compete, because it could jeopardize my career. But I decided to give it a go, not miss the opportunity, since the Games only come once every four years. All of this gave me strength," he recounted.
After the Olympic Games, the only apparatus on which Larduet could train were the crutches he was obliged to use for several weeks, while controlling his characteristic hyper-activity. His patience and nerves of steel soon re-emerged as he faced a long recovery away from the gym.
The quiet period, on occasion needed to lower the adrenaline, has served Larduet well, "I feel relaxed. I train with more confidence and the elements come to me more easily," he said.
"Of course, training is one thing, and facing the judges in a competition is another, something I haven't done this year. So this is how we'll go to the Central American qualifiers in Guatemala in June, with the majority of the guys on the team arriving without almost any international experience," he notes, already anxious to show what he can do on such a stage.
"I want to compete, but without taking any chances. In Guatemala, for example, I won't do the floor exercise. I'm preparing a new, more difficult routine, that I hope to have the opportunity to present at the Montreal World Championship in September. This is one of the events in which I hope to win a medal during this Olympic cycle," he says with the confidence of the only Cuban athlete with real possibilities of winning multiple medals in any competition.
In the Veracruz 2014 Central American Games, Larduet won two gold medals and five others, a harvest he could improve in Barranquilla 2018, although he will face a new world-class rival in Colombia's Josimar Calvo.
"I'm more focused on what I want, and I have a trainer who knows what I need to do to enter a competition in good spirits and well-prepared. This helps, and without being over-confident, perhaps I can reach three or four gold medals in Colombia."
These are the final words of a veritable "monster" of gymnastics, who has experienced glory and is going for more, "With time, I have been able to train and perform like a machine, but I need to keep going, I can't be content with this."