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Arley Calderon (CUB): “The Games were never so close for me…”

Just outside the best 10 in the Olympic ranking before competing in the IWF Grand Prix in Havana, Arley Calderon was the home hero on the third day of the event after getting two bronze medals in the men’s 61kg. At the IWF World Championships, last December in Bogota (COL), the Cuban ace lifted 280kg and was in the “unpleasant” 11th position of the ranking determining the competitors getting their “ticket” for next year’s Olympic celebration in the French capital.

At the Pabexpo, and in front of some very enthusiastic fans, Calderon made a personal best of 286kg to finally enter that restricted 10-athlete group. With a 125kg snatch and a 161kg clean & jerk, the 24-year-old climbed twice to the lower march of the podium, precisely in the two-movement variant and in total. This result – a personal best – gives him a provisional ninth place in the Olympic ranking, after three other results above 181kg, which was the 10th-place cut arriving at the Cuban rendezvous. 

Arley Calderon (CUB)

Arley has now participated in three qualifying events for the Games – after the Worlds in Colombia and before competing at home, he was also present at the Pan-American Championships, last March in Bariloche (ARG), where he got the lowest total so far in this Olympic path, 275 kg (silver in his category). In 2022, in the continental showcase, he was also second in the 61kg, with the same 275kg total.

Visibly thrilled after his last attempt in Havana, Calderon hardly finds the words to thank the support he received throughout the competition. “It was quite thrilling to lift here, in my country, and get this personal best. The support of the entire Cuban team and all those who were here in the venue gave me the additional strength I needed to perform well. In the end, it paid off and I am obviously very happy,” confesses the Cuban star. Asked if he immediately understood the importance of his results in terms of entry in an Olympic qualification “zone”, Calderon admits: “During the competition, I didn’t care about that. I was so concentrated that I couldn’t think of something else. I was focused on my technique and on making sure that my lifts were solid. When it was all over, I then understood where this total had put in the ranking…”

Things are, however, not over. “If I continue working hard, I believe I can still improve. There is no reason to doubt that. I sometimes competed in the 67kg category and lifted a bit more in that ‘unofficial’ category for me, so I know my body can stand some kilos more… I hope the Cuban people continue supporting me and in return, I promise that I will do the best I can to improve,” Calderon states. “Paris 2024? Of course, I believe in that possibility! With a lot of dedication, work, and faith I can compete in my first Olympics. The Games were never so close for me…” he jokes.

Arrived in the world of weightlifting at the age of 13, Calderon immediately got stuck with this “hard sport”. Motivated by his family members, clearly fans of an activity “requiring strength and resistance”, he was quickly spotted by the coaches of the national team. Based in Havana with his teammates (since 2017 – he is originally from Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province), the Cuban star has a very demanding training programme, including double sessions three times a week, and one rest day, on Sundays. Also in the capital, he had time to complete his university studies, in Physical Education. “I want to continue connected with the sport after the end of my career. And, if possible, in the weightlifting world, perhaps as a coach or as a referee”.

Reflecting on the challenging economic conditions affecting the Caribbean island, Calderon takes those difficulties with philosophy. “We lack many things and many resources. But we always find the means to overcome those obstacles. We are a country of resilient people, and the athletes are no exception to that. The Cuban competitors have brought excellent results to the nation, and everyone is very proud of those achievements,” he considers. If selected to compete in Paris, the goal is to fight for a medal, but on a more realistic prediction “to finish among the best eight” of his category. His next opportunity to reinforce, and if possible, improve his position in the Olympic ranking will be the IWF World Championships next September in Riyadh (KSA).

By Pedro Adrega, IWF Communications