SI Vault
Jerry Kirshenbaum
August 29, 1977
Cuba's double gold-medal winner, Alberto (the Horse) Juantorena, is in fine fettle for the World Games
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August 29, 1977

El Caballo Is Off And Running

Cuba's double gold-medal winner, Alberto (the Horse) Juantorena, is in fine fettle for the World Games

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It is assumed that the long-delayed showdown between Boit and Juantorena will come at the World Cup. In preparing for that meet, Juantorena is concentrating more on the 800 than on the 400. This is partly because Boit's specter looms in the 800, but also because Juantorena is starting to think of himself as a middle-distance man. Indeed, he suspects he might move up to the 1,500 by the 1980 Olympics. "Endurance seems to be part of my nature," he says. "I've done relatively little distance work in the past. With proper work, who knows how I might do?" Meanwhile, there appears to be less competition in the 400 than the 800, and Juantorena feels his chances for a double at D�sseldorf are promising.

It was with this in mind that Juantorena put in an hour of hard training early the following morning at Havana's noisy old Pedro Marrero Stadium—noisy because swarms of workmen were renovating its ancient stands. Watching the workout was Juantorena's sister Caridad, who was visiting from Santiago de Cuba. Her presence, Alberto said with the usual flourish, was "an inspiration to me." Afterward he drove Caridad to the Frank Pais Orthopedic Hospital. It was here that the operations were performed on Juantorena's foot and it was here that Caridad, a basketball player on the Oriente women's team, had been operated on for an injured knee three months before. Today she was to have a checkup.

The hospital was a well-scrubbed, pink-brick structure and its lobby was crowded with patients, some of them on crutches, others wearing braces. They greeted Juantorena excitedly. He moved among them like a faith healer, clasping hands and reaching through a sea of expectant faces to tousle the hair of children. His caramel-colored features glistened with perspiration. A nurse who knew him from his stay at the hospital brought the thirsty Juantorena a glass of ice water, then another glass, then still another. As he gulped down his fourth glass, she said gently, "You must have been eating pork."

"No," Juantorena replied, "I've been running like an animal."

A torrential rain fell that afternoon, sending water cascading past the windows of Jos� Mart� Airport like a second sheet of glass. Resplendent in his light-blue team uniform, Alberto Juantorena roamed the air-conditioned terminal. He pushed the happily squealing Irita around in a luggage cart. He chatted with compa�eros. And he had a beer at the bar—"A little celebration," he called it. It was a year to the day since he had won the gold medal at Montreal in the 400. (Four days before, on the anniversary of his victory in the 800, he had allowed himself a glass of rum at home.) Cubana Airlines Flight 464 was nearly two hours late when it departed for Mexico City and Juantorena paced the aisle of the plane while teammates slept or played cards.

In Mexico, competing in the Central American Games in Jalapa, he was narrowly upset in the 400 by Jamaica's Seymour Newman. Newman was timed in 45.66, Juantorena in 45.67. Then, in Guadalajara, in trials for the World Cup's America II team (representing the hemisphere except for the U.S.), Juantorena won the 800 (1:48.28) and 400 (44.79) to qualify for both events at D�sseldorf. Finally, in Sofia, he broke the 800 record again, this time sizzling to a 1:43.43. The stage was set for his meeting in D�sseldorf with Mike Boit.

When Juantorena returns home from his journeys, he and his family will move. Just before leaving for the airport, Juantorena had stopped by to look at his new house. The spacious, colonnaded building occupied a large corner lot that seemed almost rural, so green and lush were its plantings. Within its thick stucco walls, its foyer and four bedrooms were richly decorated with marble and stained glass. Heading from one handsome room to the next, Juantorena said over his shoulder, "When the house is cleaned up and repaired, it will be...." Then he was gone, making it necessary to speculate on what he was about to say. Ah, yes, of course. When the house is cleaned up and repaired, it will, naturally, be an inspiration to him.

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