World discus champion Denia Caballero at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Santa Clara, Cuba

Caballero has twin goals for 2016 – Rio gold and a national record

After joining the list of Cuba's world champions at the IAAF World Championships, Being 2015, Denia Caballero understandably now has lofty goals for the next year's Olympic Games.

The 25-year-old became the first Cuban discus thrower to win an IAAF world title and only the country's second global honour in that event, 23 years after Maritza Marten's Olympic gold in Barcelona.

After a month-long holiday following her most successful season ever, Caballero is now starting her preparations for Rio.

“I am going for a podium there. I will be happy with any colour, but we all aim for gold,” said Caballero from her home town of Santa Clara in central Cuba.

In addition, she has also targeted beating the long-standing Cuban record, which has stood at 70.88m to Hilda Ramos since 1992.

Her coach, and a former discus thrower himself, Raul Calderon confirmed her aspirations in conversations with the local media.

“These results (in 2015) forced us to set more ambitious goals," he said. "We can speak of the Olympic gold but first we need to create a solid base in the general conditioning phase to reach 65 to 66 metres consistently. We will then set a strategic plan and do our best in Rio.

“Physically, she can gain two more kilos," he added. "At 83 kilograms, that would be her ideal weight for competition. She would gain strength without sacrificing her speed. Technically, we will work on her hip and trunk posture in the final part of her rotation. Everything else she has: a strong mind and the dedication of a great athlete."

Peak performance

With five of the world's top 12 marks in 2015, the Pan American and world titles, Caballero clearly found the ability this season to peak when it mattered most, by comparison to 2013 when she only finished eighth at the World Championships.

After a long 2014 campaign that ended with the Central American and Caribbean Games crown in November, she opened her 2015 season in May with a massive personal best of 67.87m, adding more than two metres to her previous best, an indication of what was to come.

Later that month, and only one day after arriving back home after two meetings in Europe, she unleashed another huge throw, a 69.51m personal best, at the famous Barrientos Memorial meeting in Havana.

In June, she became the 25th woman – and third Cuban – to join the exclusive 70-metre club with a 70.65m effort in the second round at a meeting in the Spanish city of Bilbao.

“After that throw, I knew I could stand a chance at breaking the national record and beating (Croatia’s defending world and Olympic champion) Sandra Perkovic,” commented the only daughter of a sporting couple, former boxer Ibrahim Caballero and Lucia Ponce, who was a long jumper. Her uncle, Ricardo Ponce, is also a long-serving men’s triple jump coach on the Cuban national team.

Just one month before the World Championships, Caballero picked up the Pan American Games gold in Toronto with a 65.39m effort.

Confidence counts

“I was confident I could win," she said. "I had to stay focused as my grandmother had suffered a heart attack two days before the competition. I did my best for her and I believe I sent her my positive energy as she recovered fairly quickly."

In the one-month hiatus between Toronto and Beijing, Caballero then focused on improving her coordination. She worked with a lighter discus to refine her technique.

“That work paid off,” smiled Calderon, after history was made in Beijing when she clinched the gold medal with a first-round throw of 69.28m, into the bargain coming out in front of Perkovic for the first time in eight head-to-head encounters.

“I knew it would be a good throw, but did not expect it to go that far. I was in shock, hard to believe it,” said Caballero. “I suffer from migraine and it affected me in the final after the first throw. I couldn't believe it, even after the awards ceremony.

“This performance has shown me that you have to keep working hard despite all adversities you may find along the way," added Caballero, who was saluted with a parade in her her honour in Santa Clara just a few days after ending her season. "I have always felt my mom’s blessings and her voice telling me to believe in me."

Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF