“Born Ready“. Day in the Life of Luguelin Santos
The progress of the Dominican prodigy has already been faster than anyone could imagine. But World and Olympic medalist Luguelin Santos is ready to impress track and field fans even more.
To see how the World and Olympic medalist in the 400m, Dominican Republic‘s Luguelin Santos, lives and trains, the participants of the IAAF media project Day in the Life had to go to… Puerto Rico. Yes, that‘s right, 20-year-old Santos is a freshman at the Interamerican University in San German. He lives nearby, uses Inter‘s facilities for training and actively competes for the school at collegiate championships. In fact, at Justas, the biggest intercollegiate championships in the country, Santos even dyed his hair green to match the school kit, and did four events – the 200m, 400m and both relays – in just one day.
Santos is not alone in Puerto Rico. His younger brother Juander, their Dominican coach Jose Rubio, and the whole training group are there, as well. The brothers even live in the same house with Rubio and his wife. But Santos‘ success story started in the Dominican Republic back in 2008, when Rubio, the President of the National Olympic Association at the time, noticed the 14-year-old runner, who made a 400m/800m double at the National Youth Championships, and invited him to join the national junior team.
Rubio admits, that he was less impressed by Santos‘ shape, but more by his energy, confidence and defiance. “Back then, I had about 60 athletes in the group, including Arismendy Peguero with a 44.92 PB and Yoel Tapia, a 45-second quartermiler. This kid was only 14, but he was very confident and defiant when he would challenge these older guys in training,” smiles the coach.
The following year, Lugelun won the National School Championships with a PB of 50.22, and went on to the Pan American Junior Championships, clocking an impressive 47.35. “From then on, it‘s history: 2010 Youth Olympics, 46.19 for the win; silver at the 2011 Pan American Games, 44.71, securing a sponsorship for Puma; and a 44.88 at his Diamond League debut in Doha in May 2012,” recalls Rubio.
For the years 2012 and 2013, the goal for Luguelin was just to be competitive at the Olympics and the World Championships. Rubio and Santos were shooting for medals in Rio 2016. But, as we know, the big success came earlier. First, Luguelin won the World Junior title in Barcelona. The Dominican just had some unfinished business from Moncton 2010. “In Moncton, coming down the home stretch I was actually in third with Kirani James and another athlete from Bulgaria, but then I got too tight and tense and finished in sixth place,” explains Luguelin.
His brightest competition memories from early days somehow happen to be related to his Grenadian peers. “My first Pan American Games… It was in the heats and I was in lane five with Rondell Bartholomew in lane four. I was giving it all I had at the 200m mark… And here comes this guy, who runs past me with such an ease. He looks at me and moves away. I‘ll never forget that,” laughs Luguelin with his very special, genuine and infectious laughter.
So, in Barcelona, Luguelin won with a fast time of 44.85. But Santos still felt he had more in him. “I guess, I had it left for London,” he smiles. At the Olympics, a somewhat underdog, young and relatively inexperienced Dominican, placed second in 44.46. One year later, he took third at the Moscow 2013 World Championships in 44.52.
It was a faster road to success, than he could dream of, but there is still plenty of goals to strive for, with the Rio 2016 gold still in the big picture. And Luguelin seems to accept any kind of challenge thrown at him.
Sub-44? “This is a goal that I would love to achieve in 2014, to be a part of that exclusive club, but if I don‘t achieve it this year, automatically, it will become a goal for the next year“. What if something goes wrong? “Anything can happen, it‘s a day to day work, it‘s all about focus. Maybe, I can do something wrong that can hamper or hinder my performance, but if you train hard and rest well, living the life of an athlete, not of an ordinary person, you can have a long career“.
I throw in another challenge – the World Indoor Record in the 600m, 1:15.12. Many one-day meets have tried to pull that off. The “Russian Winter” , that I used to work for, had such 800m stars as Yuriy Borzakovskiy, Adam Kszczot, Mohammed Aman, trying to break that time – no luck so far. Maybe a 400m runner could do that? Santos haven‘t really competed indoors that much yet… what if? “I believe, I can break that world record, not just myself, there are other athletes who can do that. I ran the 600m in Canada this year as my season opener. And I was pretty much alone in the lead, so I slowed down in the last 200m, but if there were a more competitive field…” he said.
“So, Luguelin, seems like you‘re ready for any challenge out there?” – “I was born ready!” And he laughs again, making everyone in the room smile.
Growing up, Santos had a role model in his event – Jeremy Wariner: “It is because of how relaxed and elegant he is, when he runs. His race, that inspires me before every major race, was Stockholm in 2007, where I believe he ran 43.50.” But now, he is a role model himself – for his younger brother Juander, who already ran 46.51 this year in Ponce, and for another generation of Dominican athletes. “It is a responsibility that I carry. We have the potential in our country to have great 400m runners, so that the young athletes can get to represent the Dominican Republic internationally, as I have done,” explains Luguelin.
We had this conversation in April. Since then, Santos has already upset the World Champion LaShawn Merritt in Kingston, ran a swift 44.53 for second in Ponce and represented his country at the World Relays in Bahamas. And, believe me, you haven‘t seen the best of him yet.