Mijaín López, the golden giant who hopes to surpass Michael Phelps “with humility, as my mother Leonor says”
Juan Antonio Belmar
June 25, 2024

Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and the second highest of the Balkan Mountains at 2,917 meters high. For Greek mythology, Mount Olympus was the residence of the main gods, highlighting Zeus. It is common to read and hear that great athletes have a reserved space in that sacred place, where their talent surpasses the limits of the normal and they become superior beings and can be called in property the ‘God of Olympus’. Mijaín López Núñez, four-time Olympic champion, wants to break the record of consecutive gold medals in Paris and become immortal, he is closer than ever, despite the fact that in the last two years he has practically not competed.

Michael Phelps (swimming), Carl Lewis (long jump), Alfred Oerter (discus throw), and Paul Elvstrom (sailing) are other athletes who have also won the gold medal in the same individual event in four consecutive Olympic Games. All that remains to be seen is whether the Cuban will go down in history and become the most successful athlete of all time. Mijaín López Núñez will be 42 years old this August 20 and in this period of pause and reflection of two years he has lived delicate and sensitive moments after the unforeseen death of his father in September 2023, product of a cardiac arrest that hit him hard and that triggered the non-competition in the Pan American Games Santiago 2023, where he was one of the consular figures of this event. SportsIn has had the opportunity to talk to the four-time Cuban Olympic champion, who is training and concentrating these days in Budapest, Hungary.

Since October last year you have not stopped with training and concentrations, both in Cuba and in Europe, with stops in Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria to get directly to Paris. How have you felt physically and psychologically?

It has been a long training cycle. When I defined that I would go for the gold in Paris I assumed that I had to give everything. You can’t improvise anything and in these trainings we correct all the details with our coaches, because winning a fight and a medal is in the details. Mentally I felt good because I am in good company. I am a very sociable person, to enjoy simple things, to show what I feel, even though I am also very demanding with everything and everyone.

Before the 2020+1 Tokyo Olympics you announced that it would be the last Games, but after the gold medal, you left the door open and we were left with the feeling that it was not definitive. What made you change your mind?

The truth is that before competing in Tokyo I felt that the time had come to retire as the best, and to be the best you have to give everything. The fight has two times of three minutes, it’s a short time, but the time you invest in training is years. I have been competing for 22 years, I started when I was 20 in a world championship in Moscow (2002) and I will never forget it because that’s when I understood that I could go very far. Well, I finished 13th in -120 kilos and, the following year I came in 16th place. And, two years later in 2005 I got my first world championship here, in Budapest, where I am training now.

Mijaín López against Turkey’s Kayaalp. (M. Healey/UPI/Shutterstock)

Have you managed to dimension if you stay with the Olympic gold in Paris the record that you will impose to the new generations?

You work to achieve your own goals, I set myself great challenges because I had the support of my parents, siblings and then my own family. You don’t go thinking about beating or surpassing the records of others, because it’s easy to get off track if you don’t focus on what you have to do. Now, to answer your question, it is true that if I win the gold in Paris I will be remembered as the best in history and I will surpass my idols that I saw competing when I was a teenager. To achieve that, I have been fortunate to be with people who have taught me to train, but also to be humble in triumph.

In Tokyo you won your fourth Olympic gold without an audience, with the restrictions of the pandemic and with your family watching you on television. Now, in Paris, I imagine that all those closest to you will be with you, because it will also be the moment to say goodbye, we all hope, hanging the gold medal and with a special dedication. If you get it, who are you going to dedicate it to?

To my father, who left us in September last year. He left before his time, but despite this sadness, there is something special, it is a force that moves me and motivates me to continue giving the best of me, always with humility, simplicity and respect for others, as my mother Leonor says. You know, I remember as if it were today, but 30 years ago my father told me a phrase that marked me forever: “What you want to achieve in life only depends on how hard you try”, said Timoteo Bartolo Lopez.

Mijaín, I want to take you back to your childhood and the origins of Cuba’s greatest athlete of all time. What was your childhood like, what do you remember about it?

I come from a rural place called Herradura, in the town of Consolación del Sur, Pinar del Río province. I have my mother who is the cable to land, I’m still ‘El Niño’ for her. She called me that because I was too big for my age. I have two more brothers, both also dedicated to sports: Misael in rowing and Michel in boxing and bronze medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, where I finished fifth in wrestling. As for my childhood as a family we had many shortcomings, like many children who grew up in the countryside, where we had to run after the animals and carry heavy boxes of fruit. As I always say, our effort was our food. A coach saw me there and told me that I had the height and physique for wrestling, I was 10 years old, so it was premature to think about getting to where I am now. That’s why I always tell kids to dream, that nothing is impossible despite all the difficulties they may have. I had them and it was not an obstacle to fight for my dreams.

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