Roberto Hernandez with Alberto Juantorena in 1990 (© Getty Images)
World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that Cuban 400m record-holder Roberto Hernandez, who claimed 1987 world and 1992 Olympic 4x400m relay medals, died on Monday (5) at the age of 54.
Hernandez developed a heart disease last year and was hospitalised several times. He succumbed during his latest hospitalisation at Havana’s Joaquin Albarran.
“It is a massive loss. We are all saddened,” said Cuban Athletics Federation president Alberto Juantorena, from whom Hernandez took the national 400m record in 1990.
Born in Camaguey, eastern Cuba, Hernandez moved as a child to Limonar, Matanzas, where he took up athletics and met his two best sports friends, world high jump record-holder Javier Sotomayor and 1992 Olympic high jump finalist Marino Drake.
“This is a very sad day for me,” said Sotomayor, who met Hernandez at the hospital three days before his passing.
“A brother, a friend, a teammate since we were children in Limonar, is gone. The good memories we lived together are countless and will stay with me forever, as a friend, a colleague and as the extraordinary athlete he was.”
Drake added: “From the EIDE (sports school) in Matanzas to the national team, he forged great friendships. He always did his best and represented the country with decorum, respect and honour. With Roberto, one of the best representatives of our generation is gone, a human being I loved as a brother.”
As a 19-year-old, Hernandez rose to the international scene in 1985 when he took 400m silver at the World University Games. In 1986 he became the fifth-fastest man under 20 years of age to run the one-lap race (45.05), a time that still stands as a Cuban U20 record.
Twice fourth at the 1987 and 1991 World Athletics Championships and fifth in the individual 400m at the 1992 Olympic Games, he anchored the Cuban 4x400m squad to silver at the 1992 Games and bronze at the 1987 World Championships. Their 2:59.13 semifinal run in Barcelona still stands as the national record.
Hernandez also picked up 1987 world indoor silver, 1991 Pan American Games gold on home soil and the 200m-400m double at the 1990 Central American and Caribbean Games.
In 1990 he improved Juantorena’s national record to 44.14 in his best season. In all his 17 400m races over six months that year, he went under 45 seconds. He also set a world best with the USA’s Danny Everett in the rarely contested 300m that year, as both clocked 31.48. He retired after the 1996 Olympic Games.
Javier Clavelo for World Athletics