Cuban hurdler Orlando Ortega said on Tuesday he was spurred to defect after island authorities gave him a six-month suspension for insubordination and he now hopes to build a new life with his family in Florida.
Speaking by telephone from Padua, Italy, where he was staying with friends, Ortega said he was at peace with his decision, but expressed disillusionment with Cuban sports officials and institutions.
“It was an extremely difficult and tough decision, but I made it and I won’t look back,” said Ortega, who at 22 years old is considered Dayron Robles’ heir in the 110m hurdles.
His departure leaves Cuba without one of its biggest talents in an event where it has shone in world and Olympic competitions.
Ortega and his trainer were punished by Cuban sports authorities after he refused to compete in a June trial in Russia. The sanction was later lifted and he raced at the World Championships in Moscow, but was out after the first round after finishing sixth in his qualifier.
He traveled on with the Cuban delegation to Spain, where he abandoned the team and separately made his way to Italy.
“They committed a great injustice with me and my trainer,” Ortega said. “It affected me a lot and I felt very bad, because I didn’t compete during the two months ahead of the World Championships.”
Ortega said that he had competed abroad many times before, including in New York and Puerto Rico, but had never thought of defecting until now.
“I am living some hard moments. I know that in Cuba people are talking about betrayal,” he said.
Ortega finished sixth at the London Olympics last year and arrived in Moscow having posted the third-fastest time of the year, 13.08 seconds.
Like Robles, who recently moved his career to Europe with club Monaco, he criticized Cuba’s sporting institutions.
“You never hear about the lack of attention to the athletes, about the problems, about some track and field leaders who are poor examples to educate the young, but I don’t want to look back. A new life awaits me now,” Ortega said.
He said he was trying to arrange to travel to Tampa, Florida, where his mother lives.
“Right now the only thing, and what I want most, is to reunite with my mother in the United States,” he said.