Cuban sprint queen Durand embraces perfect chemistry with guide Kindelan

The great connection between athletes with vision impairments and their able-bodied guides, like the one between Omara Durand and Yuniol Kindelan, is one of the many things we celebrate on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, celebrated on 3 December 03 Dec 2022
A female Para athlete runs with her male guide runner
Omara Durand has been running with her guide Yuniol Kindelan since 2015.
ⒸSimon Bruty/OIS
By Fatima Martinez and Ayano Shimizu | For the IPC

Omara Durand requires no introduction in the world of Para sports. The Cuban sprinter is an eight-time Paralympic champion and has been unbeaten at the Paralympic Games since London 2012. 

Durand, who has a vision impairment, is not alone when she competes on the track. She runs together with Yuniol Kindelan, her sighted guide who she is tethered to during races. 

The unstoppable duo claimed three gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, winning the women's 100m, 200m and 400m T12. They also topped the podium in all three events at the Rio 2016 Games.

Perfect chemistry 

The friendship between the two athletes has been fundamental to their success. Durand’s family and Kindelan’s family often spend time together, and “we do everything as a family,” the female sprinter said. 

“We have a lot of chemistry. We get along very well,” Durand said. “This relationship between us has also been key for us when it comes to training and achieving everything.” 

The pair were introduced through Durand’s coach, Miriam Ferrer Fernandez. Durand was recently reclassified to the T12 class after her sight deteriorated following the birth of her daughter in 2013. 

“I started looking at the possibility of running with a guide,” Durand said. “(My coach) told me he was responsible, that she saw that he had similar characteristics as me and we would be a good match in training.

“I didn’t disagree and said, ‘If that’s what you think, then it will be Yuniol'. He was done being a conventional athlete already and he joined to work with me."

Durand captured three gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with Kindelan. @Simon Bruty/OIS

But the perfect chemistry between the Para athlete and her guide did not come instantly. It was a relationship that the two gradually developed through training and getting to know each other. 

“He had never run with a Paralympic athlete and I had never had a guide. That was a challenge,” Durand said. “It was hard because coordinating between two people, moving arms and feet from the start of the race, is a bit complicated.

“We trained, persisted and we made it to where we are now. I think I won’t be able to find a guide like him anywhere else.” 

Faster together 

Their solid relationship is what allowed Durand and Kindelan to taste glory together, and the duo is already aiming for even higher ground. 

“We get along, we understand each other, we have a lot of things in common. We are almost the same age. We share interests,” Kindelan said. “I think the key to success is getting along, understanding and having that synchronisation on and off the track.” 

Durand is now focused on the 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile and qualifying for the 2023 World Para Athletics Championships in Paris. 

“I think of myself as a fulfilled athlete in Paralympic sport. I see my life in sports has been very satisfying and with excellent results,” she said. “My career is not over yet. My goal is to keep my status.”

Mom on a mission  

With the Paris 2024 Games less than two years away, Durand also draws inspiration from her daughter Ericka and treasures her time being a mother. 

Balancing an athletic career and motherhood was challenging at first, but now the champion sprinter has found her rhythm.

“I live a normal life,” she said.  

Durand's next big goal is to perform well at the Santiago 2023 Parapan American Games. @Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Every day, the athlete wakes up early and prepares Ericka’s snack for school. Then she takes her daughter to school and trains for three to four hours. After picking up her daughter, she cooks and cleans at home, and rests her body. 

While Ericka does not play sports, she supports her mother's preparation for competitions and sometimes watches the training sessions.  

“Having Ericka in my life has been a blessing,” Durand said. “Having her in my life has given me much more desire and strength to keep going in sports because I always want her to be proud of me.”