Ismael López Mastrapa: “I Owe Cuba Everything I Know”
Keshorn Walcott and his javelin produced the most unexpected story in the Olympic Games athletics. The Trinitarian transcended as the youngest champion in this discipline when, at the age of 19, he was crowned champion with an 84.58m throw. The title was the second Olympic gold in the history of his native Trinidad and Tobago, and the first in the last 36 years since Hasely Crawford’s 100m victory in Montreal ’76.
In the outstanding performance by Keshorn Walcott, who also won the gold medal at the 2012 World Juvenile Championship, the knowledge of Cuban trainer Ismael López Mastrapa plays a role. The trainer, a native of the eastern province of Holguín, became news due to his pupil¡s relevant performance during the season, and these days he is again focused by the media after being chosen by the North American, Central American and Caribbean Trainers’ Association (NACAC) as best NACAC trainer, a distinction that took him by surprise and so he admitted in his statements, granted via e-mail to this writer.
How did the news about the prize strike you?
It took me by surprise, but I am greatly honored. In the area there are many trainers with enough merits to receive this prize. Now I have another reason to keep working hard to develop the throws in a country where speed was the priority.
How about telling us the story of your links with Trinidad Tobago?
I arrived in Trinidad in February 2004 as a collaborator, thanks to the agreement between the sports ministries of Cuba and this country. I remained there until July 2008, when my mission ended and I returned to Cuba.
Then, in November of that same year 2008 I returned here and began to work with the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago as sports officer. At the same time I was an active part of a national program for the development of throws, because field events do not get good attention. In that way I became involved and now I have athletes in different learning phases in athletics. As most outstanding I can mention, in addition to Walcott and others with good level in the juvenile category, athlete Quincy Wilson, who can and should become a first-level athlete in discus throw within the next two years.
Now that you mention Keshorn Walcott, how did he become involved with athletics?
Walcott reached athletics through his school, which has an athletics club. Just like his brother, he trained triple jump.
Was it you who discovered his potential for the throws?
Not exactly, he rather promoted himself. The story goes that in 2009, while the javelin athletes were training, Walcott approached and said he could throw more than them, and so he did. When the club trainer saw his shot he called me and said he wanted to show me an athlete, and that’s how I met him. That was how the story of Walcott and the javelin started.
A story that has several stories of victories to tell, hasn’t it ?
Yes, he has won all Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) editions from 2009 through 2012, and also the 2010 and 2012 Central American Juvenile Championship. He was seventh in the Pan American Games of Guadalajara and is the current World Juvenile Champion and Olympic Champion.
These two are his most recent titles and, at the same time, the most important. Athletes are always asked what they felt during the event. What did you feel when you saw those results?
Although many persons believe the opposite, for me the Barcelona World Championship was more stressing than the Olympic Games. The World Championship was the main event of the year for Walcott, and we had set ourselves the target of winning. It was not a good day because there was much wind against in the stadium and the results were being poor, so much so that he won with his last throw. I was very tense, and although I was glad with his result I must say that his 78.64m shot remained below my expectations.
London, on the other hand, was a beautiful experience. After the World Championship results we knew we had won the first objective of the season, and I commented it to the boy. I told him that London would be an event to enjoy and win experience. Walcott is a very young athlete and he still has much to learn and much to improve in his technique.
We work on that basis, always with the mentality to go out in search of a first good throw that may benefit us from the psychological point of view…
I sincerely say that I couldn’t believe the end result. I always thought there were chances of breaking the world juvenile record, but to win the title was still a long way to go. In the end Walcott threw 84.58m only 11 cm short from the record. The return to Trinidad was something incredible. Hundreds of persons awaited us at the airport, the day was declared a holiday, in short, a feast.
Has Cuba influenced the development of your pupil?
Yes, and very much. I start from the fact that I am Cuban and that I owe Cuba everything I know. I carry my country like a tattoo in my heart, and although professional ethics ties me to Trinidad now, I always remember where I come from.
As to the boy’s development, I can tell you that this year – which has been determinant in Walcott’s career – we made a training base in Havana from April 16 through May 12. We trained in Cuba and the results were very fruitful. When we returned from that stay he threw 78m and some cm which I don’t recall right now. He seemed anxious and ready to reach the B mark for the Olympic Games. Then I requested the Ministry of Sports to participate in the event on the occasion of the IAAF’s centennial, which was held in Cuba on May 27, to look for the minimum there. He won with 80,11m, a result that gave him the right to attend the Olympic tournament.
But Cuba’s influence is not in the least restricted to Walcott’s case. Cuba plays a very important role in the development and education of trainers, in addition to the services it renders with the purpose of improving sports in the entire region. Our country has been a promoter of the sports level growth in many countries.
To prepare the next season thinking of the World Championship in Moscow. We are training already and have plans of going to Cuba for a 4 to 6-week training base. That would be, tentatively, in March. For the time being we are working hard to try to improve the technique and boost his competitive maturity. It’s too early to speak about numbers, but I’m sure this season’s results will be good.