Created 24 July 2012
Orlando ORTEGA Alejo, Cuba (110m Hurdles)
Born 29 July 1991, Artemisa
Coach: Santiago Antúnez
Manager: Javier Sotomayor
In just two seasons, 21-year old Orlando Ortega has become a major contender in the sprint hurdles and together with his training partner, defending Olympic champion and World record holder Dayron Robles, he wants to continue Cuba’s successful tradition at the Olympic Games in London.
The oldest of four children was born to nurse Vianka Rosa Alejo Santana and athletics coach and former 400m hurdler Orlando Ortega Hechavarría.
His grandmother, Cristina Hechavarría, was part of the gold winning 4x100m relay team at the 1967 Pan American Games and ran the relay heats of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, where the Cuban team clinched silver. His grandfather, also named Orlando Ortega, was a member of the national football team in the 1960’s.
Ortega took up athletics at the age of 10 when his family enrolled him in a athletics academy in Artemisa, some 60km west of Havana. He previously practised taekwondo and boxing, but never competed in both.
His grandmother was his first coach and he immediately focused on the hurdles. “It has always been my favourite event,” he recalled.
He joined Antonio Maceo provincial sports school a year later and represented Habana province at the National School Games in 2003-2006. In the 12-13 age group, he won two bronze medals. A year later, he finished fifth in the hurdles combined events (60m, 60m Hurdles, High and Long Jumps) with two relay medals.
In 2007, he equaled the national youth record (hand time), improved to silver in the sprint hurdles and won two relay gold medals at the National Youth Championships. Those results prompted his promotion to the national junior team in Havana.
He trained for both hurdling events under the guidance of two-time Olympian and 1986 World junior champion Emilio Valle in 2007-2010, but still shone in the sprint hurdles. He set a national youth best in both events: 13.0 in 110m H and 51.1 in 400m H 2008, as well as winning the Cuban Youth title in the shorter distance.
Valle realised he could run the higher hurdles faster and recommended he focus on the 110m H.
In 2009, he ran a personal of 13.47 and improved to 13.45 in 2010 to gain selection in the Cuban team for the World Junior Championships in Moncton.
“I have a very sad memory of the Junior Worlds as hit a hurdle and fell in the qualification. I had high expectations coming into that event.”
Despite that disappointment, he continued to progress, now under the guidance of decorated coach Santiago Antúnez. Antúnez, recipient of the 2010 IAAF Coaches’ Award, has led over 25 years of international success for Cuban sprint hurdlers, from the World Junior titles of Emilio Valle (1986) and Aliuska López (1988) to the Olympic golds of Anier Garcia (2000) and Dayron Robles (2008), among others.
Having joined the senior ranks in 2011, Ortega clocked 13.56 in Havana to secure a spot on the Cuban team for the Pan American Games. He did his first European tour (four meets) and then improved to 13.29 one month before the continental event.
In Guadalajara, he proved his 13.29 was no fluke as he ran 13.30 for bronze, his first international medal in a race won by training partner Dayron Robles (13.10).
“The Pan American Games have marked my career. It gave me the strength and the confidence to keep going and aim for more victories,” he recalled of his breakthrough performance in the Mexican city.
Such a result opened doors for his first indoor season in 2012, where he ran a personal best of 7.57 and advanced to the semi-finals of his first major global event at the World Indoor Championships.
“I did not run a good semi-final race, but it was a great lesson coming to my first World Championship. You never stop learning in the hurdles,” he said then.
Training under Antúnez’s instructions and with World record holder and Olympic champion Dayron Robles has proven to be a key factor in Ortega’s rapid success.
“I am very lucky with the opportunity to have Santiago as a coach and Dayron (Robles) as a training partner. Thanks to them, I have been able to achieve my results.”
And it did not take long before these top results arrived. After a season’s best (13.33) in Guadeloupe in May, he beat Robles on home soil with an impressive personal best of 13.09 at an international meet in Havana staged to celebrate the IAAF’s centenary.
That time ranks him fifth on the 2012 world lists coming to London and third on the Cuban all-time lists behind Robles (12.87) and 2000 Olympic champion Anier Garcia (13.00). His place on the Cuban team for London was confirmed.
“I am not surprised by the 13.09 because I have been working hard for it. This is one of the accomplishments my dad yearned for. It is realising the dream of my grandmother Cristina Hechevarría and the pride of my mom and my entire family,” he commented on his fast race in Havana.
After his Havana exploit he has remained consistent with a third place at the Diamond League race in New York and two races under 13.30 in France.
London being his first Olympics, Ortega believes he will have a positive experience.
“I want to run well and see how far I can go. I don’t want to add pressure on a particular goal, but like any athlete I want to be in the final and see what happens there,” he stated.
Ortega believes the support of his family and his girlfriend, three-time Triple Jump World champion (two outdoor and one indoor) Yargelis Savigne, has been instrumental in his short but already successful career. “We have been together for a year and we are lucky to travel together. We are always supporting each other to aim for great performances. She is always fighting and I love her spirit.”
The young Cuban hurdler has USA’s 1996 Olympic champion Allen Johnson and grandmother Cristina Hechevarría as his idols. In his limited free time, he loves listening to music, watching movies and spending time with the family.
100m: 10.62 (2011)
200m: 21.2 (2009)
400m: 47.84 (2009)
110m Hurdles: 13.09 (2012)
400m Hurdles: (84 cm): 51.90/51.1 (2008)
60m Hurdles: 7.57 (2012)
2007- 13.5h/13.2h w (91cm); 2008-13.0h (91cm) NYR; 2009-13.47 (99cm); 2010-13.45 (99cm); 2011-13.29; 2012-13.09
2007 2nd National Youth Championships, Havana 13.7h
2008 1st National Youth Championships, Havana 13.4h
2009 2nd National Junior Championships, Havana (200m) 21.2h
2009 1st National Junior Championships, Havana 13.4h
2010 5th National Games, Havana 13.4h
2010 h World Junior Championships, Moncton DNF
2011 3rd Pan American Games, Guadalajara 13.30
2012 sf World Indoor Championships, Istanbul 7.71
Prepared by Javier Clavelo for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2012