Havana, CubaOlympic champion and World record holder in the women’s Javelin Throw Osleidys Menendez is back in training for next year’s World Championships, eager to recapture the global crown which she won in 2001 but failed to retain in 2003.
”2004 has been the best season in my life. I have had other good years, but this one was exceptional as I won the Olympic gold and was only 0.01m short of the World record when it mattered in Athens", commented a happy Menendez at the Estadio Panamericano in eastern Havana.
It is a totally different story for the 24-year old Cuban, who a year ago was reflecting on a terribly disappointing 2003, when she was only fifth at the Paris World Championhips, and third at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo.
“I learned that I could not lose consistency in my training. I was a bit out of focus and minor injuries affected my technique. But I regained the concentration I needed in an Olympic year, thanks to the joint work of my coach, physician, physiotherapist, psychologist, and the support of my family.”
Preparations for Athens
Menendez took her comeback, ‘step by step’. Her season debut (63.54) in Havana on 20 February showed she was determined to recover the number one spot for her event in the IAAF World Rankings – a position she now successfully holds again.
Two weeks after that February opener, she ended her first training stage with a massive 68.23m throw (5 March), the furthest in the world since August 2001.
Shortly after claiming the national in late April and having a two-week training camp in Mexico in May, Menendez was ready to start her campaign in Europe. She took an easy 63.35m win on 16 June in Guadalajara, near Madrid, Spain, which the Cuban team established as their European training base for the summer.
A month later, she confirmed her fine form with two solid Super Grand Prix victories in Iráklio and Madrid, where she threw 67.87 and 67.99, respectively.
The only two defeats in her 15 outings this year came in Havana (53.25m – 4 June, lost to compatriot Nora Bicet, 61.51m) and on 2 August in Linz, Austria, when Czech Nikola Brejchová beat her by 23cm, with a national record of 65.91m.
Commenting on the latter loss, Menendez confirmed, “I did not worry about the defeat. I was training for the Olympic Games and that was not my most important competition. I was lucky to win all meetings (in Europe), except that one. I stayed confident and knew what I was doing.”
In Huelva, Spain, she proved she was on the right path just three weeks prior to the Olympic final. Two efforts over 66m including 66.99, were more than enough to secure her first Ibero-American crown.
"We arrived in Athens on 10 August and made some adjustments to improve the technical work. Since we left Cuba we knew we were going to win the Olympic gold and the first throw was decisive", recounted Menendez’ coach Quintana.
On the day of the final, on 27 August, Menendez only needed her first attempt to secure the gold and the Olympic record (71.53), and what an effort, just 0.01 short of her World record!
"I looked at the Javelin and told myself that I had achieved what I wanted. I was focused on winning, not on breaking the (World) record. That's all I needed to erase a bad 2003", the World record holder remembered.
Germany's silver medallist Steffi Nerius was more than five metres behind with 65.82m.
Menendez performance improved on her bronze medal in Sydney 2000 and equalled the accomplishment of her countrywoman Maria Caridad Colon in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Two other Cubans qualified for the Javelin final. Sonia Bisset repeated her fifth place from Sydney 2000 and Noraida Bicet was seventh.
A welcome from Castro
After a warm welcome by President Fidel Castro, Menendez returned to Europe to end her season with a clear victory at the World Athletics Final in Monaco to seal her world number one Ranking.
Her clear dominance can be easily seen as she had the best six throws and was the only woman with results over 66m this year. She also owns 11 of the best 20 marks on the all-time list.
After her return from Monaco, Menendez stayed for one month a half with her relatives and some of her closest friends in her hometown of Marti, Matanzas, some 150km east of Havana. "They were days full of joy and quietness. I was glad to see those people who supported and trusted me", she described.
She plans to celebrate her 25th birthday at home on Sunday 14 November, with her mother Dora, one sister and three brothers, as well as her friends.
Back to training for 2005
Menendez resumed training on 1 November and has been running to gain endurance and progressively lose the extra weight. She is currently weighing 81 kilograms and should be at 77 in competition.
"We want to correct some technical details. She is now more mature and has gained experience. She is very competitive and we want to give a surprise in Helsinki", stated her coach Quintana, previewing another big throw at next year's World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, the tradition home of the event.
"It is known that the Javelin Throw is a national sport in Finland. It should be a very difficult competition due to the changing weather and we are not used to it, even though we spent a long period in Europe. I want to recover my World title and will give it all like in the Olympics".
The 2001 Edmonton World champion has competed well in Finnish capital, where she won at the Grand Prix meeting twice in 2000 and 2001. In the latter, she threw 66.74.
75m a possibility
Both coach and athlete agree that the 2004 season was better than three years ago, when she became the first Cuban female athlete to set a Senior World record and also the first woman to break the 70m barrier with the new specification Javelin (71.54), in Réthimno. Greece.
"According to biomechanical studies, experts say I can throw 75m. I have good technique, coordination and speed. We need to keep working on those small details to better the record. You don't plan for it, it could happen any day. I just hope to improve it from here to 2008 and stay consistent over 70m,” she explained.
More awards to come
Menendez' Olympic gold and record place her with a good chance of being selected as both the best Cuban and Latin American sportswoman of the year. She was previously awarded the title in Cuba in 2001 and 2002, and was decorated with the Latin American Sports Award in 2001.
"It is a great compensation for all the sacrifice we make every year. Sports gives you great satisfaction and motivates you to keep going. I am ready for more celebrations.”
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF