Alejandro Valdés (right) competing for the bronze medal in the Paris World Championships. Photo: Marion Stein

For Alejandro Valdés, son of three-time Freestyle Wrestling World Championship silver medalist in the 62 kilogram division, Enrique Valdés, the sport runs in his veins.

The wrestler from Havana’s rapid development over recent years has not only seen him become national champion in the 65kg division, but also the best freestyle fighter in the country.

“I want to make my daughter Alexa proud. Ever since I first stepped foot onto the mat, I’ve wanted to become World Champion. And my family, especially my daughter, are key to me achieving this,” he explains.

Valdés recently came close to fulfilling his dream, winning bronze, and his first World Championship medal, in the Freestyle Wrestling competition in Paris.

Feeling ready to become champion, he had everything going for him, but in this sport, such as in life, even the smallest details count toward success.

“After I finished in the Olympic Games in Río 2016, I concentrated on the World Championships. I felt good from the start, however, the fight where I could see my real potential was in the quarter finals against Istanbul 2011 silver medalist Franklin Gómez, of Puerto Rico. Franklin is a tough opponent, he’s fast and you’ve got to remain focused for the whole six minutes because he’ll exploit any mistake and that can be costly. I felt stronger as the fight went on, and when I saw the final score (11-2), I realized that I had done better than I thought.”

Tell us about the semifinal fight against Poland’s Magomedmurad Gadzhiev…

It was a difficult fight. Gadzhiev is a high level athlete who, although I’d never faced him before, I knew well because we’d been competing together since the World Youth Championships. We’ve been following each other ever since then, and we actually have got a good personal relationship. He’s got a strong defense and effective attacks. I knew I couldn’t make any mistakes; I had to be precise and not tire myself out too early, because it could cost me dearly.

I kept the pace up throughout the fight and he defended himself in the all-fours position. What I can say is that I was a lot more active on the mat. The fight ended 1-1 and the judges decreed him the winner. I think they could have been fairer, but that was the final decision.

You seemed very strong going into the bronze medal fight…

In truth I was feeling a mix of emotions, I felt like I could have been champion.

The semifinal defeat affected my focus, but I told myself that I still had one more fight and that it’s better to finish with bronze than to finish in fifth place.

It was a high level competition. How did you manage to recover from that frustrating defeat to be able to face the next fight?

In Paris, I just got over it and regained my focus, I knew I would have time to lament after the competition.

After the semifinal I took a bath and slept for 40 minutes. Then I woke up and warmed up well, because my bronze medal opponent, Azamat Nurykau from Belarus, was very dangerous. I opened up the scoring 4-0 early on in the fight, but with about five seconds to go until the end of the first round, he did a kind of surprise counter attack on me and was able to score. In the second round he attempted an unsuccessful attack: as I went to score, he countered the move and I landed in a very difficult position, which I still don’t know how I was able to escape. At one point I even thought he might pin me, but I dug deep and won the fight in the end.