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Javier Sotomayor Confident of a Repeat in Gold at Atlanta

June 28, 1996

HAVANA (AP) _ Less than five weeks to go before the Olympics, the only man to clear 8 feet in the high jump hadn’t attempted a leap in more than a month.

But Javier Sotomayor thinks he can succesfully defend his Olympic title.

Despite inflammation in the left knee, Sotomayor had three chances to clear 7-1 at a recent national meet and assure his fans he was ready to repeat as Olympic champion. Sporting his usual wraparound sunglasses, Sotomayor lined up about 15 yards out, paused and, to the rhythmic clapping of the crowd at Havana’s Pan-American Stadium, approached the bar from right to left.

He didn’t make it. He smacked his head against the right support bar and crashed through the crossbar, stunning the crowd and thousands more watching on Cuban state television.

Momentarily stunned himself, Sotomayor paced back to his starting point, carefully marking the distance heel-to-toe. But he didn’t make his next two attempts, either.

If Sotomayor was upset, he didn’t show it. He graciously posed with a group of European tourists for pictures and signed autographs before joining his 3-year-old son, Javier Jr., and girlfriend, Olga, in the stands.

Sotomayor, 28, brushed it off as a bad day.

``I still have a month″ to prepare for Atlanta, Sotomayor said. ``I’m not lacking any confidence.″

And can you win?


His coach, Guillermo de la Torre, said Sotomayor was distracted before jumping and suffered ``a lack of coordination.″ Not promising for perhaps Cuba’s biggest sports star.

Born in Matanzas, Cuba, about 60 miles east of Havana, Sotomayor began training at 14, under coach Carmelo Benitez, who wanted to channel Sotomayor’s unruliness into a sports discipline.

Sotomayor set a junior world record in 1986 and added world records in 1988 and 1989. Dogged by injuries, he underwent knee surgery in 1992 but recovered to take the gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

In 1993, he set the world record of 8-0 1/2 at Salamanca, Spain, and last year, he won the Pan Am Games at Mar del Plata, Argentina, leaping 7-10 1/2.

Fourteen years into his athletic career, Sotomayor has grown accustomed to the press and publicity. He seems to thrive on it as well as the privileges it’s brought him: a red Mercedes Benz, a gift from German sports officials; a watch collection, and influence in Cuban sports circles.

He breathes confidence and enjoys the attention.

And even though it’s been three years since he set the world record, Sotomayor thinks that, if pushed, he can go higher.

``I don’t know how high I can get,″ the 6-6 Sotomayor said, chuckling. ``My limit? That’s a difficult thing to say.″

After running wind sprints on an empty practice track behind the stadium overlooking the Atlantic, Sotomayor is bent over, sucking in air. Olga is there, along with some friends.

Sotomayor is at ease, reveling in this break from traveling abroad. But he’s anxious, too, to become airborne again and become the first high jumper to win gold in two different Olympics.

``You work for years and you can’t jump, it’s like working for nothing,″ he said. ``But the knee doesn’t bother me much.″

Sotomayor thinks it will take a leap of 7-9 to 7-11 to win at Atlanta.

``I’m not going for the record,″ he said. ``I only intend to win.″

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