The Cuban gazelle

June 6, 2012

By Desmond Boylan

A mixture of gazelle and human is the impression Dayron gave me when he took off from where I was standing on the training grounds and jumped the first hurdle. He became tiny in the lens very fast, and when he was running towards me there wasn’t much time to shoot until he filled the frame.

Dayron Robles is the main sporting figure of the moment in Cuba. In his specialty event of the men’s 110m hurdles, he won gold at the Beijing Olympics and is the current world record-holder.

You would not think this when you speak to him. He is humble, reserved, down-to-earth, gentle, agreeable and easygoing, but at the same time there is a distant look in his eyes.

On May 6, he spoke to a Reuters TV crew and clearly announced his plan to retire after the 2012 London Olympics.  His trainer Santiago Antunez also plans to retire. When asked why, he answered that there are a lot of factors involved, like injuries combined with disappointments over several issues. He doesn’t care if those issues are resolved anymore because he is definitely retiring. He did not want to go into specifics.

For a 25-year-old at the height of his career, all this sounds a bit strange.

Dayron said he will attempt to run the 110m hurdles in close to 13 seconds when he trains in Spain for his London build-up, and at his first athletics meetings in the United States in June. His standing world record is 12.87.

Stardom has not hit him. The Spartan conditions of high performance athletics training in Cuba’s stadium are in stark contrast with the results obtained by them.

The installations are simply rundown. Budgets are constrained, so the level of professionalism and knowledge of everyone involved can be the only reason for such brilliant results for Cuba in sports on the world stage.

Cuba has lost many top performers in several high level sporting disciplines. They are commonly approached by middlemen and a deal is made, sometimes through arranged marriages so they can opt for a different nationality.

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