“I want to defend my two titles from Doha 2015. That is what I am focusing on and what I am training for.”
This summer’s 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London, Great Britain, have been on the forefront of every athlete’s mind since the curtain came down on the Rio Paralympics last September.
But for Cuba’s Leinier Savon, the World Championships have been the catalyst and the stage to transform his career.
Two years ago in Doha, Qatar, Savon – who has the eye disease retinoschisis, which affects his vision - stormed home to win 100m and 200m T12 World Championship gold.
It was an occasion the 28-year-old remembers well – and one that he believes gave him the belief to continue his Para athletics career.
“Doha 2015 was also a litmus test for me. I realised there the potential I had,” explained Savon. “I want to defend my two titles from Doha 2015. That is what I am focusing on and what I am training for.”
Savon had enjoyed a meteoric rise in the Para athletics world. After making his international debut at the Mexican Open in December 2014, the Havana-based Para athlete went on to win two golds at his first Parapan American Games in Toronto, Canada, just eight months later.
With so many Cuban track and field athletes such as Omara Durand, Yunidis Castillo and Leonardo Diaz already shining on the international scene, much was expected from the rising star ahead of the World Championships in Doha.
If expectations weren’t already high enough, Savon’s cousin is Cuba’s legendary boxer Felix Savon – winner of three Olympic heavyweight boxing titles.
But Savon the Para athlete overcame the pressure and, despite his limited international experience, impressed the world with his success on the track.
“I vividly remember the 100m heats, which was my first race,” he recalled. “I finished first and then qualified for the semi-finals, where I was again the fastest. And I followed that up with another win in the final.
“Claiming my first world title meant so much to me because I could confirm I was amongst the world’s best and it gave me a confidence boost ahead of the 200m.
“Although I had already competed at a major competition such as Toronto 2015, it was not until Doha 2015 that I could test myself against the world’s top sprinters.”
Savon then decided to try his luck in the men’s long jump T12 – although it has never been his best event - finishing eighth. But the Guantanamo-born man knew his chances of winning a second gold would increase in the men’s 200m T12.
“I was again the fastest in the heats, the semi-finals and the final,” Savon said. “It was incredible to take two titles at my first World Championships. The weather was really warm but I still managed to perform to the best of my abilities.
“I really enjoyed the event; the volunteers were always very helpful. I would still have liked to get to know the city a bit more. As I had to focus on the competition, I could not go sightseeing.
Back home, the Cuban Sports Institute and the Cuban sports journalists’ association named him their 2015 Paralympic Sportsman of the Year. He was quickly cementing his place as one of his country’s finest Para athletes.
One year later, Savon again shone on the international scene, winning his two favourite events at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. In the 100m T12 he was the only competitor to go below 11 seconds; over 200m he finished 0.2 seconds clear of his rivals.
Expectations may be high for London 2017, but the Cuban is ready to take on the world once again.
The World Para Athletics Championships will take place in London, Great Britain, from 14-23 July 2017.