Fidel presenting Javier Sotomayor with the gold medal in the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana. Photo: Raúl López Sánchez

JAVIER Sotomayor explains that a friend called him early on the morning of November 26 to tell him that Comandante en Jefe, Fidel Castro Ruz had died. It was a direct blow to the gut, the worst morning in a long time, it was like knocking down the bar on the last jump for the gold medal.

“It’s a hard blow given what Fidel represents for me, and the entire Cuban athletic movement. He gave us sports areas, specialist schools, where I grew up together with thousands of other men and women,” stated the high-jump world record holder (2.45 meters) speaking with Granma International.

“Fidel is inspiration and motivation, an example to follow. He was always with us before, during, and after every competition, wanting to know of all of the details. This is why I am, and always will be, an eternal Fidelista,” stated the prince of the high-jump.

The exceptional athlete has many memories of meeting the Comandante, in particular that of the hours before the Cuban delegation set off for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the United States.

Sotomayor had had a shaky season, with results fluctuating between 2.34 and 2.38 meters, due to knee trouble, which in the end required surgery.
After missing several training sessions and failing to complete strengthening and jumping programs, doubts surrounded his performance in Atlanta.

“Hours before leaving for the U.S. Fidel called me because he knew I was having trouble. He tried to persuade me not to risk myself or compete, but I asked him to have faith in me, and he told me that, no matter what happened out there, I would always have his support and that of the entire country,” stated Javier.

His words at such a challenging time proved to Sotomayor the greatness of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, which he again experienced in 1999, when he was accused of, and suspended for, doping during the Pan American Games held in Win­ni­peg, Canada.

This continental competition was special for the Cuban high-jumper who hoped to secure his fourth title following those won in Indianapolis 1987, Havana 1991, and Mar del Plata 1995. However the doping accusation, which aimed to put a blot on his career and the prestige of Cuban sports, prevented him from achieving the crown.

“Everything I did in 1999 I owe to Fidel. He believed in me more than anyone else, and always tried to prove the irregularities of the drug tests done in Canada, after the B and C examinations were manipulated. His support had a lot to do with the positive outcome of the story, and my subsequent participation in the Sydney Olympics, where I wasn’t able to win gold, but was able to give him and all loyal Cubans a sliver medal,” noted Sotomayor.

It has been a week since the Comandante passed away, and Javier recalls the second person he spoke to on that fateful night.
“Maradona called me at 4am from Croatia and was really sad.”
”He (Fidel) was like a second father, as he has stated in many interviews. He arrived in Cuba on Thursday night (December 1) and I met him at the airport. He came because he has a great commitment to Fidel and the Revolution, he came to say his last goodbye,” stated Sotomayor, who ended the conversation by highlighting, “Just like so many other people in Cuba and the rest of the world have said, I also carry Fidel with me. He was like a father, and I will continue to be loyal to his legacy, to his lessons.