Several weeks ago OnCuba invited its readers to ask Javier Sotomayor anything they want to. Today we publish the first part of the dialogue in which the king of the heights fulfills his promise to reply to all.
Javier Sotomayor Sanabria is so tall that he almost does not fit through the door of his mansion in Miramar. He receives us gladly, always attentive, with a deference after the other, at the height of someone exceptional, touched by the gods with an innate talent that flows in every word, because besides being the best high jumper in the history of mankind he has managed to bring and defend this distinction with singular elegance.
We walked through two rooms of his house, refined to the smallest detail, lit only by a dim light, a cozy atmosphere in which the Prince of the Heights doesn’t discover even for a second his eyes hidden by his traditional sunglasses.
In the left corner stands a glass case adorned by trophies of all sizes and brightness, Adidas classic shoes, plus a small flag of Real Madrid. Later, we see a huge picture of him flying over the bar at 2.45 meters, giant numbers that also decorate the entrance of his Sport-Bar, which will put back into operation in October.
There, outdoors, he fits on huge cushions and as a preamble to dialogue; he thanks OnCuba readers for their praise. Then, without delay, he demands the questions, which, he admits, laughing, hopes are not too demanding.
– Limonar, Matanzas … how the beginnings of Sotomayor in sport were?
I was born in Matanzas, but I grew up in Limonar and there, when I was ten years old, I took my first steps in the sport in a special area where I practiced Pioneers pentathlon; it was a must in the category.
I remember that in the five tests was the high jump, the main reason for me to practice it, I did not like it at all. They even kick me out of that training t area because I did not jump, but in the EIDE a coach enrolled me in high jump, so to speak, it never rains but it pours.
Yet I was still reluctant, so much that the first weekend I went home I didn’t want to return , only my family convinced me and I agreed
– This marked a before and after…
Sure, otherwise my life would have been for who knows what pathways. Carmelo Benitez forced me to jump, and then I kept working with Remigio Amorós and José Anacleto Espinosa Reyes, to Jose Godoy Sanchez, who took me to jump 2.44.
– But it’s a long story to that height…
Still in National ESPA I was not sure to continue in high jump. We had to make many acrobatic exercises and I was afraid, until I realized that they were needed and started to lose the fear of heights, to the point that I jumped from a plane in a parachute, a reason I was badly chastised at some point, but I have no regrets and would do it again.
Already with 14 years I jumped two meters and 17 arrived at 2.33, I think the key moment in my career, because a world junior record was enough to give continuity to a story.
– How was the training to jump so high?
Very strong and rigorous routines. Luckily I was always disciplined, with a strong will and I owe the results to the consistency in training, concentration in each year, but also talent influenced greatly.
– Almost without realizing it you got to the universal top…
The progression was very fast and improved records quite frequently, but the great results, as well as by the work of my coach and the set goals, came thanks to the rivalry with other jumpers of extraordinary level, I would say that the time was the most prolific in this modality in history.
– Sjoeberg, Austin, Partyka, Kemp…
These and others helped me to have great results, to take marks to that high of a point, because with a 2.35 jump it was impossible to win a competition. Among them, the Swede Patrick Sjoeberg was the strongest, with several jumps above 2.40, and Charles Austin, the litter led by Russian Gennadi Avdeyenko, Polish Artur Partyka, Romanian Sorin Matei and Bahamian Troy Kemp, who beat me in the World Cup in Gothenburg in 1995, all very stable and competitive.
– One of them sought to break the world record wearing your own shoes…
True, that was Sorin in Bratislava, where I gave him a pair of shoes because I had five pairs that Adidas produced for me according to my demands, things like that were higher, the flexibility, the positions of the supporting nails and other details. That day Matei was with some shoes that were not in the best condition and I gave them some of mine. Then I saw him compete from the stands with a sore knee, he jumped 2.40 and as usual then tried to beat the record that was still 2.44.
– There are many scenarios in which you triumphed, but what do Salamanca, Barcelona and Atlanta represent in particular?
Salamanca is a city that has meaning because the coincidence of those two world records there. Even in 1996, when I was really bad due to injuries, I jumped there 2.30 and in the National Championship I couldn’t reach 2.15. I mean, it was like a talisman city, with human warmth, I felt at home.
In Barcelona I won my only Olympic title and world indoor in 1995. It is also one of my favorite places in Spain, I think between Madrid and Barcelona I would not know where to stay
And finally, from Atlanta I don’t have the best memory because of the bad result in the 1996 Olympics, but at that time any city would have been the same, the memory would be negative regardless of the location. That season I had been well, got 2.38 and precisely managed 2.34 here in the Olympic qualifiers, but had no continuity.
I competed and stopped by sore knee, which eventually had to have infiltrated. I missed many training sessions; I could not complete all the strength and jump programs, and I lowered the level. I went with faith that something could go well but only reached 2.29 in qualifying and stayed there.
– According to the videos of the last record in Salamanca you passed the bar easily, so people think you could jump higher in your career. Did you get a goal that subsequently did not keep?
I tried 2.46 several times but could not reach that mark, and even 2.47 for two things. The first was the death of Godoy, whom I worked since I was 14. I struggled to adapt to my new coach Guillermo de la Torre, without taking away any credit for the current record I did with him. Second, increased injuries and were increasingly serious, especially in the ankles and knees.
– At some point they asked for the 2.50 meters, was there any chance to get it?
I think I will die and no one will make that jump.
– Did you expect to win the Prince of Asturias Award aged just 26, taking into account historical as Pele and Carl Lewis were also among the candidates?
Be among the nominees was not surprised because the results of the year, but getting to the finalists were strong words, though I never expected to win. I remember that I learned about it in Guadalajara finishing the season, and we came back to Cuba and at the airport some journalists approached me and I knew that the prize was mine. I felt very proud of what it represents, for the values it recognizes.
– When you had achieved all possible records and laurels it didn’t cross your mind go to other horizons, a testing in professional sports
It never really crossed my mind to leave Cuba; I belong to my country, my people, and my public. Today, if I have to work abroad, I would do it with determination, but I would never give up being Cuban
– How did you live the experience of being the face of a country in the nineties?
I felt good, happy, satisfied with the achievements and the affection of the people, but I also felt sorry, not just for the country’s situation rather embarrassed by my own circumstances because despite being the flagship of the sport or idol of the public I had to be stuck on a bus or bicycle to go training.
– In 1999 you are accused of doping for cocaine after winning the title at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg. How did you live that stage, the shock?
I always wanted to participate in these games to get my fourth continental title, but Dr. Alvarez Cambra recommended me not to jump because I had a hernia and it bothered me. Also, I said it as a precautionary measure considering the Seville Worlds was close and could be out of it even with a bad move there was the possibility of becoming an invalid.
I say that this is the first evidence to realize that I was not doped, because I had in my hands the possibility of resigning covered in the judgment of the doctors and I didn’t. I competed to realize that if I went up to the podium they will run tests, so it was absurd that I was doped. In addition, the positive was a substance that doesn’t benefit performance for athletes and for anyone is harmful, much more in the illogica amounts they said I had in blood.
According to experts, with those levels would have been impossible to compete, rather be on the verge of death.
– At that moment nothing fit…
When we learnt about the positive I was in Cuba already. My competition was the last day of athletics, so almost immediately I returned. Meanwhile, in Canada a very early outreach campaign broke out to the point that almost everyone knew it before me, a tremendous violation, because I ought to be the first to know.
But there were many loose ends that allowed us to prove the falsity of the allegations. For example, the beverage ingested was directed, I didn’t have the opportunity to choose it, a bit naive on my part and a mistake that I recognize. In addition, my ballot arrived marked to the laboratory because it clarified it was the high jump, another violation that helped us prove my innocence later, but with hard work.
– Test B, or worse, the test C?
After all the media spectacle that was mounted we presented a team for Test B, composed by the late Mario Granda, director of sports medicine, and Alvarez Cambra, orthopedic, two great men, unmatched in their work, but at that we do not have any knowledge of these tests, in fact, from there we set in Cuba the Anti-doping Laboratory with a high level of expertise.
The fact is that B did not test positive, but the technicians said they had forgotten a reactant, causing something unheard of, evidence C, which is not done anywhere in the world, and besides, in fatal condition, because the sample was open for more than four hours without any prophylactic measures and then it was positive
We made an accusation about what happened. We went three times to the Arbitration Panel in Monaco and always “got a cold shoulder” until the end, protecting the laboratory had made all these mistakes, they let me compete exceptionally, obviating the sanction of two years I got.
– Who never separated from you?
I am grateful to many people, my family, friends, fans who believed in me, but especially Fidel, he believed in me more than anyone. He campaigned to try to prove the irregularities and his hand had much to do with the outcome. Laboratory specialists, doctors, lawyers, he made all work on proving the test manipulations.