Cuban high jump king Sotomayor holds onto crown after 30 years

HAVANA (Reuters): Records are made to broken, world high jump king and international idol Javier Sotomayor said, smiling behind dark glasses as the fierce Caribbean sun beat down on Havana’s Pan-American Stadium.

At 55 years old, however, the lanky, unassuming Cuban athlete is now celebrating the third decade that his record-breaking 2.45-metres leap over the outdoor high jump bar in Salamanca, Spain, in 1993, remains unmatched.

Including his prior 2.43m indoor world record in Budapest five years earlier, Sotomayor counts 35 years as world record holder, though the weather-sensitive outdoor title carries more weight internationally.

Sotomayor first hurled himself to the world’s top high jump spot in 1988, before beating this with a 2.44m spring in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the following year.

While his record has gone unbeaten since Salamanca, it has not been for a lack of rivals hoping to snatch his crown.

“There was very strong competition between us at every stage,” Sotomayor told Reuters in an interview. “They were the ones to blame for my jumping 2.45 metres.”

The culprits include Sweden’s Patrik Sjoberg, who once set the world record at 2.42m, as well as Kazakhstan’s Igor Paklin and American Charles Austin, with personal bests of 2.41m and 2.40m respectively.

“Today with 2.33 or 2.34 metres you are a gold medallist and a medallist in any competition, whether at the world or Olympic level,” Sotomayor said.

Two younger athletes have nevertheless threatened his title: Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim with a 2.43m leap in Brussels and Ukraine’s Bogdan Bondarenko, who jumped 2.42m in New York – both in 2014, nearly a decade ago.

Now secretary of Cuba’s athletics federation, Sotomayor also advises his son Jaxier, who leapt 1.99m in Spain at 15 years old, and organises an annual children’s high jumping event in honor of his late coach, Jose Godoy.

“I feel very happy and proud to still have the glory of being the world record holder after so many years,” Sotomayor said. “I will live with that pride, and it will carry on even after someone surpasses me.”