Two golds at different athletic events at one Olympics – many athletes managed to achieve this in history. But the crazy combination of 400 and 800 metres was managed under the five rings successfully by only one athlete in the world: Alberto Juantorena. The Cuban was a special guest of the renewed Pravda – Televízia – Slovnaft meeting in x-bionic® sphere in Šamorín on 4 June 2016.
It was just the “P-T-S” meeting where he tried the deadly combination on the Inter stadium in Bratislava in June 1976. He won both events – 400m in 45.89, 800m in 1:46.76. Seven weeks later, at the Olympic Games in Montreal, he repeated it successfully.
“At your meeting, I gained the self-confidence that I will manage this unusual combination also I n Montreal,” said the 65-year-old Juantorena at the press conference before the meeting in Šamorín. “The victories in Bratislava ensured me that I have enough power to try for the golden double.”
However, he was not too keen about the plan his Polish coach Zygmunt Zabierzowski invented in October 1975 at the Panamerican Games in México City.
“When he revealed, what he was preparing for me, I jumped higher than Sotomayor from the anger. I was scared of 800 metres and I had only limited experiences with it.”
Even the Cuban athletic federation did not feel sure about the coach’s plan: The 400m medal was almost 100% sure for Juantorena in Montreal. But the Polish coach convinced them all with his arguments – Alberto included. His plan started to be alive.
The athletics events of the1976 Olympic Games in Montreal started on 23 July and ended on 31 July. And exactly this long was the Juantorena´s mission. He appeared on the athletic oval every single day.
“The people from the call room were already greeting me: Good morning, sir! So what it will be today? I guess I am maybe the only person in the world who was on the athletic track during Olympics every single day during the athletic competitions.”
Nine days, nine runs. The man with a nickname El Caballo (horse) started with the feared 800. In three days, he displayed his first gold: on 23 July he won the IV. heat (1:47.15), a day later he won the first semi-final (1:45.88) and on 25 July also the final – in the new world record time of 1:43.50!
First half of the crazy plan was fulfilled. But there was no time for the celebrations as there was the next event starting on the following day – the 400.
He found himself easily in the final. But it was obvious that he was sparing his energy. But on 29 July he came for his next gold in the final 14 hundreds before the second American Newhous. The time was amazing – 44.26!
The Montreal competition also surprised Juantorena with the next two starts – he became the last leg of the 4×400 relay. However, the Cubans ended on the seventh place in the final on 31 July (3:03.81). But it was not important anymore. Alberto Juantorena became definitely the part of the athletic history thanks to his golden combination.
No athlete before him and after has ever managed to win 400 and 800 at the same Olympics. Only Jarmila Kratochvílová got close to it but she managed to win it “only” at the world championships in Helsinki 1983. And that was also the place where the successful career of Alberto Juantorena was finished. He broke his leg in the 800m heat as he stepped wrongly…
Will someone manage the same as he did in Montreal one day? – we asked Juantorena.
“Well, if I managed it in the past, there is no reason why there will be nobody to repeat it in the future,” he said. “I am also a human just like you – I only have two arms, two legs. I am not E.T. the extra-terrestrial.”
But El Caballo does not see anyone in the recent athletic world who would have this ability to repeat such unique performance.
„If there is someone attacking gold at 400 and 800 metres, he would need to beat Kirani James at 400 or Wayd van Niekerk, and, at the same time David Rudisha at 800. And as they all specialize just at one event, it is almost unbelievable now. I do not see any runner who would manage it now but I do not say it is impossible. The one must be fast and persistent at the same time, but, most of all, he must be hard.”
Juantorena achieved two world records at 800m. Except the one in Montreal (1:43.0), it was also at the world university games in Sofia 1977 (1:43.44). He did not break it on 400m despite the fact that he liked it more than the double distance.
Since the Juantorena era, the world records have moved to 43.18 at 400, and 1:40.91 at 800.
Alberto Juantorena felt well at the new-old “P-T-S” meeting. He was glad that he found himself among his old friends again. He was happy to see the old Bratislava meeting reborn in Šamorín, back in the athletic calendar.
„The P-T-S was a nice meeting with great crowds. I was very happy to return to Bratislava and I would be happy to come back to Šamorín too. Build this event, improve it continuously, make it still better and keep this tradition for the future generations. I will always support the P-T-S meeting.”