Alberto Juantorena

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For the Italo-Cuban volleyball player, see Osmany Juantorena Portuendo
Alberto Juantorena
Osaka07 D9A Alberto Juantorena.jpg
Personal information
Full name Alberto Juantorena Danger
Nickname(s) El Caballo
El elegante de las pistas
Born (1950-11-21) November 21, 1950 (age 65)
Santiago de Cuba
Height 188 cm (6 ft 2 in)
Weight 84 kg (185 lb)
Updated on 6 June 2015.

Alberto Juantorena (born 3 December 1950) [1] is a Cuban former track athlete. At the 1976 Summer Olympics, he became the first and so far only athlete to win both the 400 and 800 m Olympic titles.


Juantorena was born in Santiago de Cuba.[2] As a 188 cm (6 ft 2 in) 14-year-old, he was first considered a potential star at basketball and was sent to a state basketball school.[3] A talented athlete at many sports, he had been a regional high-school champion at 800 and 1500 meters,[4] but his true talent at athletics was discovered by a Polish track coach, Zygmunt Zabierzowski, who convinced him to start running seriously. Juantorena was ready for the change because as he states himself he was a 'bad' basketball player and his idol when young was an athlete, the Cuban sprinter Enrique Figuerola.[5] Only a year later, Juantorena was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 400 m event at the Munich Olympics (1972).

In the next years Juantorena won a gold medal at the World University Games (1973) and a silver at the 1975 Pan American Games, both in the 400 meters. He was unbeaten in 1973 and 1974, but underwent two operations on his foot in 1975.[3] He only seriously took up running the 800 meters in 1976, so few thought he was a candidate for the Olympic gold that year. His coach, Zabierzowski, had initially tricked him in to trying an 800 race by convincing him the other runners need a pacemaker.[6] However, Juantorena made it to the Olympic final, and led the field for most of the race, eventually winning in a world record time of 1:43.50.[7] He was the first non-English speaking athlete to win Olympic gold in this event. Three days later, he also won the 400 meter final, setting a low-altitude world record of 44.26.[8] By winning the 400 meters, he became the first athlete since Paul Pilgrim at the 1906 Intercalated Games to do such a double at an Olympic sports event, and was the first to do so at an officially recognized Olympics.[3][9]

In 1977, he set another world record in the 800, running 1:43.44 in Sofia at the World University Games.[10] He also won both the 400 m and 800 m at the 1977 IAAF Athletics World Cup in Düsseldorf, Germany.[11] The 400 m race was mired in controversy when the race was re-run a day after the initial race, in which Juantorena finished third, because Juantorena lodged a successful protest that his slow start had been due to not being able to hear the starter's gun.[12] The latter race featured an epic duel with his great rival Kenya's Mike Boit, a duel that did not happen at the previous year's Olympics because of the African countries boycott.

Juantorena, now known at home as El Caballo (the horse),[2] continued his career, although injuries meant he would never reach the same level as in Montreal. Juantorena had been born with flat feet that caused feet and back problems, and he had to have corrective surgery in 1977.[13] In 1978 he was unbeaten at the 400 m, but suffered his first ever defeat at 800 meters.[13] Injuries, particularly hamstring injuries, hampered his training and racing leading up to the 1980 Moscow Olympics, where he just missed out on a medal in the 400 meters, placing fourth. At the 1983 World Championships, his last international appearance in a major event, he broke his foot and tore ligaments when he stepped on the inside of the track after qualifying in the first round of the 800 m.[14] As Juantorena was being carried off the track on a stretcher most viewers must have thought that was the end, but Juantorena returned to training with a view to competing in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. However, when Cuba joined the boycott of those Olympics his last chance of international glory was ended.[15]

After retirement from athletics in 1984, Juantorena has served in many official capacities, including as the Vice President of the National Institute for Sports, Physical Education and Recreation for Cuba,[3] Vice Minister for Sport of Cuba, and Vice-President, later Senior Vice-President of the Cuban Olympic Committee.[16]

He also married Yria, a former gymnast, and is still a keen fun runner, running c. 10 kilometers a day and participating in marathons.[3]

Juantorena has also been appointed as a member of the IAAF Council,[17] and has also served as an Athletes' Commission Chairman and Grand Prix Commission Member.[16]

His nephew Osmany Juantorena is a professional volleyball player.


Juantorena was ranked among the best in the world in both the 400 and 800 m sprint events over the incredible spread of 10 seasons from 1973 to 1982, according to the votes of the experts of Track and Field News.[18][19]

World Rankings
Year 400 m 800 m
1973 3rd -
1974 1st -
1975 4th -
1976 1st 1st
1977 1st 1st
1978 1st 6th
1979 5th -
1980 10th -
1981 - -
1982 - 2nd

Best performances[edit]

Notes for tables:

  1. world rankings are based on the best time for each athlete.


  1. ^ Various dates have been given for Juantorena's birth, with December 3, 1950 (The International Who's Who 2004 (Europa Publications) and [1]) or November 21, 1950 (Historical Dictionary of Track and Field (Scarecrow Press, 2012), Top Distance Runners of the Century (Meyer & Meyer Verlag, 2002)) and even November 11, 1950 (Who's Who in the 1984 Olympics (Pelham Books, 1984))
  2. ^ a b "Alberto Juantorena". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e, 'Treasure Island Cuba Doesn`t Just Love Sports Heroes. It Worships Them', Sharon Robb, June 21, 1980, Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  4. ^ Sandrock, M. Running with the Legends. p. 206. 
  5. ^ T&F Interview, Garry Hill, Track and Field News, November 1977.
  6. ^ Sandrock, M. Running with the Legends. p. 207. 
  7. ^ 'Alberto Juantorena 1976 Olympics 800' on YouTube.
  8. ^ 'Legendary: El Caballo Romps' on YouTube.
  9. ^ Official Olympic biography.
  10. ^ Sports Reference Biography. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  11. ^ "The Cup Turned Into a Coup", K Morre, Sports Illustrated. September 12, 1977.
  12. ^ '1977 World Cup 400 m - men' on YouTube.
  13. ^ a b Sandrock, M. Running with the Legends. p. 217. 
  14. ^ '1983 IAAF World Championship Men's 800 Meter heat' on YouTube.
  15. ^ M. Sandrock. "Running with the Legends", p. 218
  16. ^ a b IAAF Council Member Biography. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  17. ^ Progression of IAAF World Records 2011 Edition, Editor Imre Matrahazi, IAAF Athletics, p ii.
  18. ^ "World Rankings Index--Men's 400 meters" (PDF). Track and Field News. 
  19. ^ "World Rankings Index--Men's 800 meters" (PDF). Track and Field News. 
  20. ^ 1973 Year Rankings at 400m
  21. ^ 1974 Year Rankings at 400m
  22. ^ 1975 Year Rankings at 400m
  23. ^ 1976 Year Rankings at 400m
  24. ^ 1977 Year Rankings at 400m
  25. ^ 1978 Year Rankings at 400m
  26. ^ 1979 Year Rankings at 400m
  27. ^ 1980 Year Rankings at 400m
  28. ^ 1976 Year Rankings at 800m
  29. ^ 1977 Year Rankings at 800m
  30. ^ 1978 Year Rankings at 800m
  31. ^ 1979 Year Rankings at 800m

External links and references[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Sandrock, Michael, "Running with the Legends", Human Kinetics, 1996.

See also[edit]

Preceded by
Italy Marcello Fiasconaro
Men's 800 metres World Record Holder
1976-07-16 – 1979-07-05
Succeeded by
United Kingdom Sebastian Coe
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Brazil João Carlos de Oliveira
United Press International
Athlete of the Year

1976 – 1977
Succeeded by
Kenya Henry Rono
Preceded by
New Zealand John Walker
Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Year
1976 – 1977
Succeeded by
Kenya Henry Rono