Spain’s Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega says that earning a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan American Games was one of the pivotal moments in his development.
“One of the best moments of my life was winning the 2011 Pan American Games bronze medal. For me, it represented the start of my career as a professional athlete.
“I was aged just 20 at the time and it meant a lot to me because I was competing alongside my best friend, training partner and mentor, Dayron Robles (the 2008 Olympic 110m hurdles champion). The previous year I’d competed at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Moncton, but it proved a disappointing experience because I fell and did not finish in my heat.
“I remember I had prepared for the 2011 Pan American Games so well under my coach, Santiago Antunez, a period which helped set me up for the rest of my career. As soon as I arrived in Guadalajara, everything was incredible – from the people, the city, the organisation of the competition. It was such a beautiful city for me.
“I didn’t expect to make the final, but I won my heat in 13.33 (just 0.04 short of his PB set the previous month in Havana) to qualify for the final from lane eight. It was incredible to be competing like this against the top senior athletes. My team was even predicting a Cuban one-two in the final with Dayron winning gold and me the silver.
“I remember having some problems with my starting blocks in the final and at about hurdle seven fighting with Paulo Villar of Colombia for the silver medal, thinking, ‘oh, my gosh, I can win a medal’. When I crossed the finish line, there was the three of us (including Robles and Villar) ahead of the rest so I knew I had won a medal (Ortega recorded 13.30 for bronze). It was a beautiful moment for me and my family.
“It was special to stand on the podium with Dayron. He is my friend, brother and still a mentor to me today. I remember returning to Cuba and celebrating with a big family party.
“My grandmother, Cristina Hechavarria, died when I was young but she was an inspiration to me as a former international athlete. This medal still sits at her house (still home to Ortega’s grandfather). In fact, I keep all my medals at that house.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF