Orlando Ortega Echavarría is one of the many Cubans who today put their knowledge at the service of promoting the development of sports in different nations throughout the planet. An athlete in his early years (runner of 400m hurdles) and later devoted to the passion of teaching, this native of Artemisa has been working as a trainer since 1996, specialized in speed and hurdles. This last specialty grants him an additional pride, since he is the father (both biological and sportive) of Orlando Ortega Jr., the boy who was sixth in the Olympic finals of 110m hurdles, who today emerges as the relief in a discipline that has been particularly prodigal to our island in recent years.
About his passion for athletics, his work as an international collaborator and the meaning of his son’s achievements, we talked to Ortega Echavarría:
How did you start practicing sports?
Sports are almost a genetic element in my family. My parents were both athletes who were members of the Cuban national team: my mother, Cristina Echavarría, was athletics champion of Central America; she was also champion at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg 1967 (4×100 meter relay) and participated in the Olympic Games of Mexico 1968. My father, Orlando Ortega, was the first sportsman from Pinar del Río to enter the national football team. With those influences I became the first of my three brothers to practice sports. I chose athletics just like my younger brother, and the second chose basketball. I have to admit that, even though we had good results at national level, none of us could reach the target of reaching the national team.
Which do you consider key elements to obtain results, particularly in hurdles, a specialty you have been close to?
Particularly discipline and persistence in the work with the athletes are influential. This is evidenced by the achievements of Professor Santiago Antúnez and his team of trainers, since they have had constant results – for instance Emilio Valle, Anier García, Erik Battle, Joel Hernández, Yuniel Hernández (also my pupil), Dayron Robles – all the boys who emerged from the hurdle school, who have shown their class and level, which equals development.
As opposed to it, speed has not been prodigal in recent times. What do you think is influencing this?
In my modest opinion and with great respect for the opinions that the remaining specialists may have on the subject, I must say that I do not agree with the phrase that “in Cuba there are no more speed runners”. I endorse my opinion because maybe not too many persons have had the possibility to witness School Games where marks of 10.4 and 10.5 seconds are made by the boys and below 12 seconds by the girls, which shows that talents exist, it is only a question of identifying the elements that do now allow them to develop.
The problem begins when the juvenile category ends, because the lack of national and international competitions affects them and, in my opinion, it is at this point that physiologically the bodies of these athletes are truly prepared to achieve better results. A determinant element is the lack of competitions; it has been proven that no training replaces the development you obtain when you compete systematically. You simply have to compete, because if they are not tested they cannot have outstanding results.
Please comment on the experience and main mission of your collaboration in Trinidad and Tobago.
I am part of a group of collaborators made up by nine trainers (three in athletics, two in boxing, two in volleyball, one in basketball and one in judo) who arrived in this country with the main target of organizing sports. We had the goal of boosting training at the basic level, let’s say in primary and secondary schools, in addition to training and advising the trainers who are part of the Ministry of Sports.
Personally, the fruit of my work has served me to obtain 7 medals – 2 of them gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals – in the national juvenile and adult championships. We have discovered very talented athletes in 200 and 400 meters, and this year we will start developing a program with the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) focused on developing the hurdle area.
Your son Orlandito has chosen athletics. Was it you who transmitted the passion?
To be honest, it was his late grandmother. She has always been the example to follow for him. An important role in his decision was the influence of having been born in a home where sports were always in the air.
Trainer and proud father?
Imagine! Seeing Orlandito in the national team is feeling that my dream has become true. He’s an athlete who has rapidly become mature, and that is because he is well focused and clear about his targets. The Olympic Games performance was extraordinary; I think I enjoyed it more than he did. He had been struggling several years for that target. He took his first steps with me at the Provincial School of Sport Initiation (EIDE) in Artemisa, and right from the start showed many good conditions. Time went by and the results showed: first at the School Games, then the juvenile category, the entrance to the National School for Sports Development (ESPA) and, without expecting it, the Pan American bronze! Then he almost had a year to cherish his dream and develop his skills, and thus he achieved his best result to date: an Olympic finalist at the age of 21.
As a fan and with your knowledge of athletics, how do you valuate the boy’s performance?
To me, it was a success. First, because it is his first participation in the greatest of all sports events, and second, because he showed determination with his performance. The pre-competition forecast he had made with his trainer seemed a little too ambitious, considering the quality and experience of the other athletes; however, he always looked for more and fought to be a finalist and so it was: he achieved his target.
What do you think he still lacks?
He must continue improving his technique, since victory depends on it to a great extent. He must also strive to obtain some more muscular mass.
Do you feel that his result commits you?
I personally receive his results with the commitment of advising him. Now it’s my turn to support him in his mission, which is to keep the prestige of the Cuban School of Hurdles on high. It also supposes continuing being father and trainer, guiding him along the correct path in both life and sports. Fame, if it arrives, is an element he must be prepared to receive, because it tends to confuse athletes in their objectives. Orlandito is young and he will not be the first one to promise much and obtain little. He has to remain focused, and in this regard I feel that I play an essential role.