At 6’5” and 291 lbs., Mijaín López made history at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo joining Americans Carl Lewis (long jump), Michael Phelps (200 meter styles) and Al Oerter (discus throw) as the only athletes to win gold medals in four consecutive Olympic games for the same event (2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020).
At 39 years of age, Mijaín López is not only a four-time Olympic champion, he is also a five-time World Champion and five-time Pan American Games champion in Greco-Roman wrestling and undoubtedly a worthy representative of Afro-Latino heritage during Black History Month.
From a hefty boy to the Cuban ‘Hercules’
Since he was a child, Mijaín López developed his enormous physical strength by running after animals and carrying boxes of vegetables and fruits. His brothers Misael and Michel practiced rowing and boxing and tried to instill him with a taste for those sports. Even though he tried boxing, he dedicated himself to wrestling since he was 10 years old.
“As soon as he was seen by the wrestling coach, he held on to him,” his mother explained in an interview with AFP.
His career could have been cut short, as at the age of 13 he suffered a fractured tibia and fibula during a competition. His father, concerned for his health, tried to persuade him to give up the sport; but the young athlete persevered and continued.
Four years later he would go to his first Olympic Games (Athens 2004) where he finished fifth after losing to Russian Khasan Baroev, who won the gold medal. López did good for a 22 year old, who his brother Michel remembers as “spoiled, grumpy and a trouble-maker”. From then on, he would continue to train and never know defeat again. And, like the Greek hero ‘Hercules’, endowed with almost unlimited strength, endurance, agility and superhuman reflexes, the legend of Mijaín López was just being born.
Mijaín López at the Olympic Games from Beijing 2008 to Rio 2016
Every time he steps on the mat, Mijaín López uses strength to knock down his rivals, so he has become the most dominant athlete in Greco-Roman wrestling in recent times. In 2008 he was the Cuban delegation flag bearer at the Beijing Olympics and since winning his first Gold medal there, he has not lost a match.
His unbeaten path continued at the London 2012 Olympic Games, where he beat all his rivals, demonstrating his power, the result of the effort, perseverance and discipline with which he prepares every day. Also nicknamed ‘El Terrible’, although he prefers to be called ‘El Guerrillero de Cuba‘, he arrived at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro 2016 with all the confidence to ‘three-peat’ at the Gold medal podium.
And in Tokyo 2020?
Despite having to stop training for an extended time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mijaín was still the favorite to win the Olympic gold and far exceeded the expectations of the Cuban people and his followers. He beat Alin Alexuc (Romania) 9-0; 8-0 to Amin Mirzazadeh (Islamic Republic of Iran) and 2-0 to Riza Kayaalp (Turkey) to reach the grand final and face Iakobi Kajaia (Georgia).
There were still 10 seconds left on the clock to end the gold medal match, however Kajaia accepted he was too far behind on points to win and conceded the match to Mijaín López. The giant celebrated with exuberance along with his teammates, at winning his fourth consecutive gold medal in the Olympic Games.
In the celebration, he first knocked down his coach, then carried a teammate around the mat and, finally, he draped himself with the Cuban flag, all of the above with his peculiar and unique smile.
In an interview for Olympics.com he stated: “I am doing what I learned, with what my predecessors, my parents, my brothers, my grandparents taught me … I believe that I am transmitting to the world that, no matter how great you are, humility will always be the greatest virtue”.
Is Mijain López retiring yet?
Before the Tokyo Games, Mijaín López declared that he was already determined to retire to rest and give the new generation an opportunity, but apparently his competitive spirit is still determined to keep going. After he won the gold, he was asked about retirement and said: “Those are words, which are in thought only. Now I want a break then I’ll see if Mijaín continues or not ”.
“The Olympic Games are the most important thing for any athlete. We have to be at the top level for many years. I think it is something very, very big, and very exciting,” said Mijanín López. “I think it is the bloodline on which we have grown up, it is the essence of who we are, what we have in our hearts, what we fight for and what we will fight for today, tomorrow and forever,” he said.
So, while Mijaín López flirts with the possibility of not retiring and participating in his sixth Olympic Games, scheduled to be held in Paris in 2024, you can wrestle with the possibility of seeing the Cuban giant on the mat winning yet another match. .