Just as Michael Johnson is the only man to win the 200m and 400m in the same Olympics, Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena holds the distinction of being the only athlete to win the 400m and 800m. What makes Juantorena’s achievement unique is the fact that the 400m is considered a sprint, while the 800m is more of a middle-distance race. The tall Cuban, who initially was trained to be a basketball player, shifted to running relatively late, when he was already in his early 20s. What’s more, his first Olympic experience resulted in failure as he was ousted in the semifinals of the 400m in Munich in 1972. He continued improving his time, though, in the 400m, and was unbeaten in 1973 and 1974.
By 1976, he was considered a favorite to win the 400m gold in Montreal. That same year, he also began training in earnest for the first time for the 800m, but given the short preparation time he had, he wasn’t given much of a chance to get a medal in that event. Juantorena surprised the pundits by not only winning the 800m gold, but setting a world record in the process. He later won the 400m final as expected, completing his two-gold haul. No one has since come close to duplicating this feat.
Injuries slowed Juantorena down in the 1980 Olympics, where he could only finish fourth in the 400m, while Cuba’s decision to join the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games prevented him from going for a medal one last time.
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