Alberto Juantorena and Teofilo Stevenson, Cuba's two pearls of the Antilles, are burnished to full luster here every day like twin crown jewels.
Juantorena, the bright pearl of speed, and Stevenson, the dark pearl of violence, hold Homeric rank on this island because of their gifts.
The world's most renowned runner and its most powerful amateur fighter hold a special place in Cuban legend. Both Olympians, the trackman and the boxer are programmed for Moscow gold in 1980. In this classless society, at least these two men are princes.
A national treasure lies face down in the dust on the track.
From every corner of Pedro Morrero Stadium, feet begin their slow walk toward the fallen "Horse."
A moment before, Juantorena, world track athlete of the year in 1977, had run freely, slapping the palm of a distance runner, teasing a girl and smiling as he jogged past.
In the backstretch, the Horse sat in the sun, cross-legged, mediatating in midworkout, his back against the stadium wall. He felt marvelous. This was a day to push his boyd, sense it, converse with it.
"Some days in training you sya, 'This is it.' You feel you can surpass anything you have ever done. At that time, you are afraid, because you think you won't make it. That you will hurt yourself," says Juantorena.
"But you must try or you will never make progress. You feel like an intruder into another world. Sometimes you can reach into that new world where no man has been. Many times you must pull back."
Juantorena, the creature with a conformation like few trackmen before him, barrels into a turn, gobbling meters.
Suddenly he pulls up, limping, holding his hamstring. He walks, stretches, sits, folds his leg under him, and finally lies face down in the middle of the Tartan track.
The morning sun is already warm. Latin music, sad and slow, drifts across the sadium from the public-address system. A hundred people see Juantorena lying motionless.
No one rushes or cries out. If this scene is not routine, neither is it unparalleled.
"Juantorena knows his body like no other athlete I have seen," says Cuban sports photographer Jesus Rocamora. "Others have too much courage, too much Adrenalin, and too little judgment.
"They will push themselves until they are badly injured. Then it takes weeks or months simply to get back to where they were. Juantorena talks to his muscles, and they talk back."
Nevertheless, out of respect, every athlete, trainer and custodian in the stadium makes the pilgrimage to Juantorena, surrounding him silently as his personal coach probes the long leg.
The Horse gets up and limps off the track.
"You are my personal devil," says Juantorena, glaring at his friend, Julio Quintana, who is jabbing a long hypodermic of painkiller into flank.
"You are the torturer," says Juantorena, as Quintana straps an electric-shock machine around the slightly injured hamstring. "As soon as I felt the muscle pull, I began thinking about this damn apparatus," says Juantorena, switching easily from Spanish to English.
"It doesn't really hurt," he says, his eyes bugging out in mock pain, his teeth chattering. "It just itches like hell."
For Juantorena, the needles and shocks and nagging injuries and drudgery of running 25 kilometers a day is an inexpensive visa if he can reach the world of sustained speed into which he is always pushing.
"It was said that 400 meters was the last sprint, but we," he says, meaning himself, "proved in the Olympics that the 800 meters could be run as a sprint.
"Now there is a new challenge. Can the 1,500 meters be run as a dash? That is a new idea which we are caressing. It's a possibility."
Juantorena defies classification and delights in his uniqueness. His goal is simple: to own every world record from 400 meters to 1,500 meters, thereby encompassing the world of powerful, explosive dash men and scrawny, masochistic distance runners in the same stunning body.
"You must be loco," he says, "to run 25 kilometers a day.
"And you must be crazy to love a sport where you wait a year, perhpas even four years, for one special day of competition. You become so tense on that day that you must disconnect yourself by listening to music or going to a good movie.
"Is that sensible?" Juantorena asks. "And training," he adds wearily. "I must change scenery. The ocean, the forest, the mountains. They are my sedative."
Fortunately for Juantorena, Christopher Columbus, sick and tired of the Atlantic, called Cuban "the most beautiful island I have ever seen" when he landed in 1494.
From the bluffs of Matanzas Bay to the mountains of Oriente, Juantorena has taken his mind away from the monotony of Tartan ovals.
"It is bothersome, this aging, this response to biological law," he says. "It makes the task of studying your own body that much more difficult."
At present, Juantorena's mind is split. He sees perhaps his last good chance to crak Lee Evans' world record in the 400 (43.85), which was set in the high altitude of Mexico City, when he competes in Colombia in July. "Everybody is waiting for a world record," he says, smiling.
On the other hand, at 26 he wonders if his speed will deteriorate by 1980. He is determined to win two gold medals again, and the 1,500 seems a far easier companion for the 800 - in terms of training technique and schedules - than the 400.
"Those little milers," says the 6-foot-3 Juantorena, who looks like an NFL tight end, "they bump each other all the time. I do not think they will bump me."
Stevenson and Juantorena, because they are countrymen and because they both look like huge Rodin sculptures, in both physique and profile, are assumed to be similar.
The two men are as dissimilar as could be imagined. Juantorena is expansive, informal, poetic, trusting, easily amused and absorbed by politics and history. Stevenson is withdrawn, suspicious, imperial and often sullen.
"The world knows that Stevenson looks like a sculpture," says veteran photographer Rocamora, "but they do not know that he also speak like one.
"Teofilo has great dignity, like Joe Louis, but words are his enemy. He speaks with his lips so tight that I must punch him in the ribs to get a picture that looks like he is smiling."
"Juantorena is the most spontaneous athlete Cuba has ever had, and we are a gregarious people," says Cuban sportswriter Jose Luis Salmeron. "Stevenson may be the least spontaneous."
Stevenson views all but his oldest acquaintances the same way he stalks a ring opponent - with his jab always proteching him, taking a cautious offensive position that can always collapse back into a safe shell of defense.
"Stevenson does not like to be hit, either literally in the ring or figuratively outside it," says an official of the Cuban sports institute, INDER.
"I have worked entire Stevenson fights when I did not snap a single picture," confesses Rocamora. "Either his back is to you, or he is covering up, or he is exploring with the jab." Rocamora admits. "And suddenly the fight is over and you have missed another Stevenson knockout."
The life styles of the two world heavy-weight boxing champions - Leon Spinks the professional and Stevenson the amateur - are as different as their dental work.
Spinks' life is turmoil, controversy and potential riches.
Stevenson wakes up early in the Cuban boxing team barracks on a farm 20 miles out side Havana near El Cano.
Guinea hens, pigs, cows and crops give off a pungent smell in the lush Caribbean air. Royal palms, grapevines and almond trees cast their shade and their restful mood over the retreat.
The boxers, now preparing for the next world championships in Belgrade, run their wind sprints in heavy boots on paths beaten bare under a grove of mango trees.
The pace is a syrupy as Stevenson's saunter. A battery of trainers, psychologists and scientists infests the camp, testing strenght and reflexes, the results of the latest hush-hush boxing techniques that Cuba is adamant about developing.
The meals, served in tin plates and cups and eaten with fingers or an occasional fork, are enormous. The dining table conversation is a shock. A fight trainer and a visiting national chessmaster agree that the poems of both Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda lose their muscular musicality in translation from English to Spanish or vice versa.
Through this disconcerting amalgam of state pugs, shrinks, jock-scientists, poetry-spouting trainers, chess geniuses and farm laborers, Stevenson walks like a truculent and totally contented deity.
Like one of the tall palms that surround him, Stevenson stands motionless for minutes in his brilliantly coclored tropical shirt, s, saying nothing, seemingly looking inward.
"I like it here," Stevenson says. "It is a very calm and tranquil place.I am in the phase of physical training now. Most of the technical and psychic things are finished."
He does not wish to eleborate. He walks awya when a photographer approaches. His smiles and signs of animation are for a pretty woman.
"Teofilo wisely saves his charm for those situations when it can bring him tangible results," says Salmersonn wolfishly. "He enjoys his bachelorhood."
In international competition, Stevenson frequently wins all but one or two of his bouts by forfeit. Nobody wants to get emulsified. How many U.S. amateurrrrus would face George Foreman for three rounds for a long cup and no bucks?
"When I am training and sweating," Stevenson says with a frrown, "I do not like to think about the forfeits. I must be prepared to fight every bout because if I am not ready, they will see it and suddennly everyone will be anxious to fight."
Perhaps not anxious, but it is a useful rationalization so that Stevenson can force himself into the training that he reputedly does not relish.
Stevenson makes it apparent that he considers himself, without doubt, the top heavy-weight in the world.
"I have seen little of Clay," he says. "he is old and does not interest me at all. I saw is old and does not interest me at all. I saw the young one (Spinks) in Mexico and Montreal. He needs much more training."
Only one American fighter draws a Stevenson smile and brings his spontaneous praise. "I have studied the old films of Joe Louis," he says. "He did beautiful things in the ring."
As for the rest of the pro boxing world, Stevenson dismisses it, falling back on his well-coached statement that multimillion-dollar purses do not interest him. "What is a million dollars to me," he says, "compared to the love of my people?"
Couldn't he have both and give the million to the people?
Isn't he interested in extending himself to the 15-round pro distance? "Even the professionals do not always fight 15 rounds," he says slyly, looking at his right fist. "Sometimes, I am told, they get knocked out."
The people of America have heard that he has lost twice to a Russian, Igor Volski. They think that Stevenson beats stiffs and is seldom challenged. Is that possible?
"Either my opponents are very bad, or perhaps I am not so bad," he says, showing more pleasure at being needled than by dull questions.
Rocamora, the paunchy old photographer, punches Stevenson in the chest and says, "Come on, you big bum. Just give me two rounds."
Stevenson scowls, but is pleased. Rocamora drags the giant around by his shirt tail, posing him for pictures against his will, slapping and mocking him. The more he is abused, the closer he comes to a smile.
"He is just a big, docile boy," says Rocamora, mopping sweat off his forehead. "He enjoys a game. He is just as glad to have someone else tell him what to do. He is a good, simple boy with natural dignity. Like Joe Louis."
Half a century ago, Cuba's great dash man, Joe Pepe Bariento, called "The Lightning Blow of the Caribbean," flashed across the sports scene, then disappeared. He was back, and Cuba had no place for him once he could no longer run 100 meters in 10.1 seconds.
Today, there are two "Lighting Blows of the Caribbean": Juantorena's feet and Stevenson's knuckles. Neither is ever likely to disappear from this island's stage.
"Those bad times are gone," says Juantonena. "We prepare our athletes in a way so they can function in society when we are not athletes. Teofilo and I still go to the university and will continue to. I study economics to be an accountant. He is an electrical engineer.
"When I grow older, it will harder for the little children to accept than for me," he smiles. "They come to me and say, 'Why do you always win?' and I cannot answer because that is such a good and difficult question.
"They are very worried abou that. The children will never understand why I lose," Juantorena says, and laughs.
"But at least when I get older, then the mothers will stop punching me. They scold me and say, 'My little boy broke his arm trying to run like you.' And all the fat people here in Cuba ask me how to lose weight.
"I say, 'Come. Tie a rope to our two waists so that shen I run, you cannot stop. Then you will get thin very fast.'"
Juantorena takes the diabolical electric-shock machine off his enormous leg. "I am abnormal," he says, and pokes a finger in his side to indicate the top of his pelvis. "Sometimes I think my legs are climbing up to my shoulders."
The only disadvantages in those hip pockets comes when Juantorena must leave Morrero Stadium in his tiny old Fiat. "I must fold myself double," he says.
Does the Horse ever wonder about the land to the north where no legend, no Olympic prince, would have to fold himself double, when, with a single Spitz- or Jenner-type commercial, he could buy a limousine?
"America amazes me," he says. "You have the money to solve all your economy. Yet you talk instead of producing a neutron bomb.
"We in Cuba feel very close to the people of America, so generous and gifted. But the policy of the government . . ." he shakes his head.
"Americans live in a country," says Juantorena, folding himself into his Fiat. "We Cubans are building a country. We are small, and still rather poor," he says tapping his chest, "but veru big with sentiments fo liberty."