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As Juantorena chatted, his 3-year-old daughter Irita played at his feet. Meanwhile, his wife could be seen through the open door giving a bottle to the couple's one-month-old son Alberto. Juantorena sometimes takes Irita along to workouts, explaining melodramatically, "She inspires me to run faster." He no doubt will start taking young Alberto to workouts, too. He was in Europe when the boy was born and he learned of the happy event by cablegram as the Cuban track men were passing through London's Heathrow Airport. He shouted the news and his teammates cheered. A few days later, in Budapest, the mail brought a tape recording of the newborn infant crying. When the proud papa played the tape over and over at full volume, his teammates no longer cheered. Juantorena shrugged and said grandly, "My son is an inspiration to me." Which he has also said, variously, about his wife, his parents, his coaches, Fidel Castro, the revolution and, well, just about everything and everybody.
As though the house on Avenida G were not crowded enough, an unending stream of friends, neighbors and relatives flowed by as Juantorena rocked and talked. Also on hand was Alfredo Casa�a, an official in Cuba's National Sports Institute and a friend of Juantorena's. Casa�a, who lived for a number of years in Montgomery, Ala., was serving as interpreter, but Juantorena sometimes bypassed him and spoke English, which he has been studying on his own for five years. At one point Juantorena went into the house, returning with a worn copy of First Things First. "This is the book I use," he said. Then he shot Casa�a a mock-serious accusing glance. "He promised to help me. I've been waiting for two years."
Casa�a was sheepish. "I've been pretty busy," he said.
Besides boning up on el ingles, Juantorena studies economics at the University of Havana while Yria, a former member of Cuba's national gymnastics team, is training to teach physical education. Earlier, while Juantorena and his wife were away on an errand, Yria's mother had spoken of the importance she attaches to the couple's education. A pleasant, broad-faced woman, Esther Marchiran de Cardona is sufficiently old-fashioned to have sent her eldest daughter, Roxann, along as chaperone when Yria and Alberto began dating ("She wasn't along on all our dates," Alberto hastens to point out) and she admits that she tried to discourage them from marrying.
"Alberto was 20 and Yria 18," she said. "I asked them, 'Why so fast?' Only when they promised to finish their schooling did I consent." The Juantorenas were wed in the Palace of Matrimony, a converted casino now used for assembly-line civil ceremonies. "After the wedding we partied here at the house until three in the morning," the mother went on. "There was much rum to drink and guests swimming about everywhere, even in the streets. And that was before Alberto became a star."
By Cuban standards Juantorena is clearly a privileged personage. A perennial housing shortage forces many Cubans to live in crowded conditions—indeed, eight people in a four-bedroom house is not at all excessive—and Casa�a conceded that Juantorena's Olympic successes helped cut the red tape necessary to get his new house. "Alberto is a national hero who has made outside contributions," Casa�a said. "He plays host to visitors from abroad like yourselves. He deserves some privacy. It is only right that he have a nice house."
The new house is not Juantorena's only perk. Most automobiles in Cuba are pre-Kaline Detroit but Juantorena drives a new Russian-made Lada 150. The tomato-red Lada is equipped with a stereo tape deck and has a tiny stuffed bear, a souvenir Juantorena picked up in East Berlin, dangling from the rearview mirror. At the wheel of the Lada later that day, Juantorena said proudly. "I get 35 kilometers [21 miles] to the gallon." He volunteered that "only people like architects, doctors and engineers" had the right to buy such a car, adding abruptly. "Ah, but we have more important things to talk about than cars." He was on the outskirts of Havana, driving past low-slung, socialist-modern dormitories. "For athletes," he said. "They were built by brigades of volunteer workers." He pointed to a four-story building. "For elementary-school teachers. On the day it opened, Fidel came."
Fidel is Cuba's m�ximo l�der. He is also the proud possessor of an Olympic gold medal for the 800 meters, which Juantorena personally presented to him after Montreal, keeping the gold medal in the 400 for himself. A member of the elite Young Communist League, Juantorena says earnestly, "It is necessary to think of the revolution as having created everything, including our victories in sports. The revolution created the necessary material conditions, health care and facilities. I am a product of the revolution."
Juantorena was born and raised in Santiago de Cuba, a busy seaport of 350,000 near the island's easternmost tip. It is the capital of old Oriente Province, whose inhabitants, like Texans, pride themselves on turning out the prettiest women and the best athletes. Oriente can also claim credit for nurturing the revolution, its steaming mountains having been the staging ground for the Castro-led guerrillas who on Jan. 1, 1959 ousted Fulgencio Batista from power. Alberto Juantorena, the second of three children of a construction worker, says that his parents were "sympathetic" to the rebels and that two cousins fought at Fidel's side in the mountains. "There was a garrison in front of our house and I remember the rebels taking it over when the country was liberated," says Juantorena, who was seven at the time. "People were shouting in the streets. It was a happy day."
According to Caridad Juantorena, Alberto's younger sister, he moved fast even at an early age. "He was always on the go," she relates. "Our mother would say, 'Now Alberto, don't forget that errand.' And he would say, 'It's done, Mother.' " As a teen-ager Juantorena served in the army and cut sugarcane during three annual harvests. His sport in those days was basketball and he eventually started at forward on the provincial team. By all accounts, he was no Ricardo Barry. Aside from being aggressive under the boards, his biggest asset was that he was fast as blazes getting up and down the court. In early 1971, Cuba's sporting powers persuaded the 19-year-old Juantorena that his future lay in track.