When in April 2017 the news broke that another Cuban sports star had defected, everyone already knew the name of Pedro Pablo Pichardo. He was no longer one. He was a former junior world champion, he had two silver medals in Worlds as a senior. And, more impressively, he was then one of the five men in history to jump beyond 18 meters in the triple.
Days later, Pichardo would appear in Portugal. In December of that year he already had his passport, but only in 2019 was he allowed to participate in international competitions across the country. He did so at the Doha World Cup, where he was 4th. Hence the phrase “this title was in debt” after in the early hours of this Sunday, still Saturday on the west coast of the United States, where the 2022 World Cups are taking place, he made “A Portuguesa” sound in Eugene, in the state of Oregon. At the age of 29, completed less than a month ago, Pichardo is finally world champion, which he adds to the Olympic title won in Tokyo a year ago. In the big outdoor titles, he only lacks the European Championship, which could even be his soon – the European Championships in Munich start in just three weeks, a calendar coincidence that is due to the pandemic that messed everything up.
This possible bingo will take place not far from a city that will forever be in Pichardo’s personal history. The triplist was in Stuttgart, Germany, at a stage with the Cuban team, which was preparing for the 2017 World Cups, when all the conditions were met to take another leap, a leap he had been planning for two years with his father: escape from the Cuban system, that had prevented him from working with Jorge Pichardo. Jorge was then a coach in Sweden, where he left after being prevented from training in Cuba.
“I spent a week studying how to do everything, because the Cuban team is always accompanied by a State security agent. I was talking to my father, in the room, through messages. We didn’t talk on the cell phone because they could hear the voice. It was only by SMS”, he explained in an interview with Express Tribune in 2019. The father then drove 30 hours from Sweden to find his son. The escape took place at night, after Pichardo returned to the hotel after the team’s dinner.
The stay in Sweden did not last long. Pedro Pablo Pichardo didn’t like the Nordic cold, which he felt in his fingers, and wanted other conditions to train. Shortly after, he was announced as an athlete for Benfica. Portugal had been the chosen destination, it had the most attractive proposals even on a financial level. From Azerbaijan, for example, as he would confess after winning gold in Tokyo. Turkey, Italy, Spain and even the Bahamas were other options. He says he chose Portugal because there are few Cuban athletes here, which would allow him and his father to work more peacefully.
It was in Portugal that Pedro Pablo and Jorge finally gathered the team that had made the athlete one of the best in the world in the triple. The athlete puts his father, with his demand for preparation and technical knowledge, as the most responsible for his results. “I often tell my family that I am like a robot that my father built piece by piece. When the robot mechanic is not, the robot works, but it doesn’t work well. That’s what happened”, he said in an interview with Tribuna, when talking about the less good results he had when his father was not directing his training.
Pichardo started in athletics at the age of six, practicing all disciplines. At the age of eight he was already jumping, but it was in the barriers that he had the best results, having even become the best athlete in the country in the 60 meters as a young man. His father’s trip to Venezuela, on a mission for the Cuban regime, led to an abrupt drop in his income. The father would return before his time from Venezuela to guide his son again, which would cause him a dispute with the Cuban authorities, which was never resolved.
The focus on the triple jump happened when he was “14, 15 years old”, he told Tribuna Expresso. But even with the return to good results, in Cuba he was only allowed to return to the National Institute of Sports and international competitions if he was not coached by his father, a situation that would cause the family to definitively break with the country where he was born. Shy and a man of few euphoria and emotions, he says that not even with the birth of his daughter – already in Portugal – he cried, Pichardo’s eyes let the weight of sadness escape when at the Tokyo Olympics he remembered his late grandmother, who left in Cuba.
“If I continued in the sport, it was for her. Before leaving Cuba, I spoke to her and she gave me permission, knowing that I could not go back and that what ended up happening could happen, which was that she would die and I would never see her again”, he said, in a rare moment of emotion. of someone who is restrained even in festivities.
In Portugal, his quick naturalization brought criticism, in a process that, he says, joined his will with that of the State, the Portuguese Athletics Federation, Benfica and the Olympic Committee of Portugal. The duel of words with Nelson Évora, which extended to the Tokyo Olympics, was also always very present in the path of an athlete who struggles to stop being known as “Portuguese-Cuban”.
Still on this rivalry, with all the wear and tear it brought to both, Pichardo said in 2019 that his rival was “18 meters and 29 centimeters”. He talks about the mark achieved almost 30 years ago by Jonathan Edwards and that until today no one has been able to beat. And that’s the distance he has in his head with each jump, the world record. For now, he still has to jump 18 meters as a Portuguese for the first time. Both at the Olympics and now at the Worlds, he was just inches away. And so he always seems not entirely satisfied with his glories. He said in Tokyo that his goal, beyond the medals, is to appear in the record books, for the big brands. That’s the motivation.
Here his life was based on the south bank of the Tagus, where he lives with his wife, daughter and parents. That’s where he also trains. After the first few months in which he found it difficult to have the best conditions for preparation, having even threatened to leave the country, he found stability in the Setúbal complex, where he has his own space, with grass and sandboxes. Benfica set up a gym there and that’s why with each victory they don’t fail to thank the club and the municipality of Setubal. He bought a house in Pinhal Novo and has already adopted many of the Portuguese habits. He likes grilled sardines and, after being suspicious, he doesn’t give up a good cod à brás. The anthem already sings it, even with an accent. Listen to reggaeton and kuduro. And pops titles wherever he goes.