Dayron Robles targets London worlds after injury setbacks

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Havana (AFP)

Dayron Robles insists he has refound his mojo after two injury-hit seasons, the 2008 Olympic high hurdles gold medallist now aiming to bag a trip to August's world championships in London.

Robles was back in action in Havana last week, clocking 13.66sec over the 110m hurdles, some way off the 13.48sec minimum required for selection for the Cuban team that will travel to the British capital in the summer.

"I'm savouring each step, each movement, each training session and this pleasure can help me get into good shape and realise many things," said Robles, with a June 3 outing in Marseille next in his crosshairs.

But the bespectacled athlete said he remains realistic, all the time striving to avoid his "main enemy", injury.

Now 30, Robles missed the Rio Olympics injured, and famously pulled up with a thigh injury in the final of the London Games in 2012, which he describes as the "worst memory" of his career.

Working alongside a younger generation of hurdlers, Yordan O'Farrill and Roger Valentin Iribarne, Robles maintains he has refound his mojo.

"I'm motivated. The new generation are pushing me to work, in the gym, on the grass, on the track," he said.

Robles was suspended between 2013-15 by the Cuban federation after conflict started over what he says was his sidelining by officials, leading him into a short-lived retirement and a refused request to run again for Monaco athletics club.

- Faithful to Cuba -

But he remains faithful to his native island, a place he has never wanted to quit, unlike Portugal-based triple jumper Pedro Pichardo and Olympic hurdles silver medallist Orlando Ortega, who competes for Spain.

Robles said "these changes should not exist (but) everyone makes their own choices".

The Cuban state pays Robles a stipend but the hurdler has invested in the hotel business on the back of the opening up of the country, launching with his family lodgings where tourists stay with a Cuban family.

"We aim to make people feel like Cubans, live like Cubans," he said.

World junior silver medallist at the age of 18 in 2004, the Guantanamo native came to further prominence two years later when he equalled the national record of 13sec dead set by Anier Garcia, the 2004 Olympic champion in Sydney.

Then in 2008, Robles clocked a world record of 12.87sec in Ostrava, a mark that would remain in place for four years. In the same year, he raced to Olympic gold in Beijing.

The seasons since then have been more chaotic, the hurdler having picked up a string of injuries and experienced the harsh side of his federation.

There was also the memorable Daegu world championships in 2011, when he crossed the line first but was then disqualified for having made contact with the hand of Chinese rival Liu Xiang.

"Lots of people still talk to me about that," he said. "But I joke about it, it's history."

Robles now aims to emulate American Allen Johnson, the "giant" alongside whom he started his career and who maintained his world-class form through until the age of 37. The Cuban said he would be "only" 33 when the 2020 Tokyo Olympic come around. But first the qualifying time for the London worlds.