Jun 23, 2024

“Practically, table tennis chose me,” Andy Pereira comments in the opening lines of our chat. Born in Havana on August 31, 1989, he comes from a sports-loving family, but with no background in table tennis.

Andy became interested in the sport by chance. “In second grade, a coach visited my school in Marianao (Municipality of Havana) looking for students with spark and there I was, full of energy and desire to learn”. – he recalls.

“We started doing basic physical exercises, throwing balls, and he was selecting those who showed potential. That coach, Ulises Mediero, who was a national table tennis methodologist, was the one who initiated me in this sport.”

Twenty-eight years after that meeting, Andy Pereira can boast of having put his signature on several milestones of Cuban table tennis, both individually and representing his country. He can also recount the enormous sacrifices that lie behind the indelible mark he has left and that places him as a paradigm of this sport on the island.

The captain of the national team is a leader, and among his greatest joys is being recognized for being the first Cuban tennis player to win a match at the Olympic Games, a feat he achieved in London 2012.

Andy Pereira shared for Centro Caribe Sports and his HUELLAS project, his experiences, aspirations and reflections after securing his qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. This will be the third Olympic participation of Pereira, who previously competed in London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016.


Do you remember your competitive debut in table tennis?

My first important tournament was a provincial championship in Havana, the same year I started training. To my surprise, I won the provincial championship and that result took me to the José Martí School of School Sports Initiation (EIDE). From third grade to eighth grade, I was in EIDE, training and competing at school level. That first provincial title was fundamental for my development in table tennis.

In the memory of your performances until today, what is that moment that you classify as unforgettable?

London 2012 was an unforgettable moment. It was the realization of Andy’s dream, and not only mine, but that of my family and all those who supported me. Its transcendence went beyond the fact that it was my first Olympics, because I also achieved the first victory of a Cuban tennis player in these games.

Rio 2016 was also significant, although from a different dimension. I had higher expectations and more experience. Likewise, every moment I have lived has been an invaluable opportunity to learn and grow.

We lived and felt the performance of the Pan American Games with you…

My performance at the Pan American Games has been the best result of my career. Winning the gold medal in men’s doubles with my lifelong partner, Jorge Moises Campos, at the Pan Am Games in Santiago 2023 was immense. What makes this achievement even more special is the timing. After the Central American and Caribbean Games, I seriously contemplated retirement. It was a time of doubts and questioning, but I kept going thanks to the support of my teammates and coaches. Not only did we win the gold medal in doubles, but also in singles, something I had never achieved before. It was a reaffirmation that effort and perseverance pay off.

Would you have words to describe the achievement of this ticket to Paris 2024?

Qualifying for the Olympic Games is one of the greatest feats for an athlete from our region. It is extremely difficult, only four players qualify every four years. The celebrations for those who qualify are immense because we feel it is one of the greatest achievements of our careers. To be at the Olympics surrounded by great athletes like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Novak Djokovic, Pau Gasol and Usain Bolt is an indescribable honor.

Paris 2024 will be my third Olympic participation and each one has been special in its own way. It fills me with gratitude and comes at a time when I consider the end of my career and I am grateful for this new opportunity to represent my country.

Behind all your career achievements there is a lot of sacrifice. What lessons/anecdotes/experiences could you share?

The biggest lesson I have learned is to never give up and always fight for your dreams, no matter where you come from. I come from a humble neighborhood where many young people choose less desirable paths. I thank my parents for guiding me on the right path and teaching me that regardless of my background, I can change my story. This lesson is something I try to pass on to young people, demonstrating that it is possible to become someone, even if resources are limited.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to stay so long away from Cuba, far from your family. How do you handle it? How much does it weigh on your day-to-day life? What do you put your mind to overcome it?

That is undoubtedly the biggest challenge: being away from my family, especially my daughter. This is one of the reasons why I have contemplated retiring, so that I can dedicate more time to her.

At the same time, the motivation also comes from her, and from the desire I have for my daughter to grow up knowing who her father was in sport and as a person, and for her to feel proud of me.

I try to be my own psychologist and stay focused, although it’s hard. The strength comes from wanting to leave a legacy for her and for future generations.

Speaking of that disposition that describes high-performance athletes, and that goes from the physical to the mental, and vice versa. What is your formula?

My physical and mental preparation is rigorous. I treat each training session with the seriousness of a competition, which allows me to be ready when I arrive at tournaments. This approach gives me an advantage, as I always give my best in every training session. During competitions, I relax and focus on the game, analyze my opponents and work as a team with my teammates, keeping us focused on our common goal.

Paris is a reality. What would Andy’s goals be now?

I’m going to give my best, that’s the main and only goal. It is an extremely difficult competition, but as long as I go out on the table and play my best table tennis, I will consider myself a winner, regardless of the result.

I want to enjoy the Games, put on a show and represent my country with pride.

Why do they call you “El Duro”?

Ah, that’s a good story…. “El Duro” comes from a phrase popularized by reggaeton singers in Puerto Rico in 2009-2010. I have always been a fan of reggaeton and adopted this nickname because it was used to describe someone who was very good at something. Over time, it became part of my identity, reflecting my resilience and determination in the sport, even when circumstances were difficult, such as training in the cold or away from my family.

What mark would you like to leave on the sport?

Beyond my sporting achievements, I want to be remembered as a great person, a good father, son, and friend. I want people to remember that I was always willing to help others. My results in sports are important, but the human quality is what really reaffirms the lasting legacy.

Do you feel you have fulfilled your dreams?

Yes, I have definitely fulfilled my dreams. Since I was a child I dreamed of making the national team and representing my country in international events. To have participated in three Olympics, to have won seven gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Games, a gold and other medals in the Pan American Games, and to be champion of Cuba on several occasions, fills me with pride.

Sometimes, I look at my medals and I am surprised because I never really imagined I would achieve so much. Walking around my neighborhood and receiving the recognition of my people is incredible: “Pereira, champion”, they tell me with a hug and greetings, and that makes me feel that I have fulfilled my dream. I never thought I would have this level of recognition from my people and friends. Even when I travel to other countries, people recognize my work and my achievements, which is really gratifying.

I am deeply grateful to all the people who have supported me throughout my career, both in Cuba and in Latin America and the world. Their support and motivation have pushed me forward, even in the most difficult moments. The road has not been easy, many times it has been narrow and challenging, but I have always moved forward thinking of my family, my parents who are proud of me, and my daughter, who is my greatest motivation.

To remember that the boy who left Pogolloti (his native neighborhood in Havana’s Marianao municipality) at a very young age is now recognized worldwide is something immense for me. These memories fill me with gratitude and satisfaction, knowing that all the effort has been worth it.

Andy Pereira is an example of perseverance and dedication. His story inspires new generations and leaves an indelible mark on Cuban sport.

He secured his ticket to Paris 2024 in an exciting qualifying competition held in Lima, Peru. A tournament that he himself described as “extremely challenging”. There he had to face high level players. In the final he defeated Alberto Miño from Ecuador with a 4-2 (11-9, 2-11, 6-11, 11-9, 14-12, 11-7) score. This victory made him the 37th member of the Cuban delegation for the summer event.

Escrito por Lilyan Cid


Scroll to Top