Jul 10, 2024

Since his start in the sport, Hugo Franco has carved a path of total dedication and commitment in the world of archery. His journey, which began in the youth team, has culminated with the emotional conquest of an Olympic place for the Paris 2024 Games.

Throughout this exclusive interview, Hugo shares intimate reflections on how he made the decision to become an archer, the deep meaning behind securing his participation in the Olympic Games, the challenges faced in international competitions such as the tournament in Antalya, and the crucial role his family and coach, Reiter Tellez, have played in his path to success. She also reveals how she balances her personal and professional life as she prepares for the biggest challenge of her sporting career. Through his experiences and words, Hugo Franco not only shares a story of perseverance and achievement, but also inspires us with his message of determination and passion to achieve the biggest dreams.

To be an archer?

When I began my sporting career, I was looking to explore a discipline that would not only excite me, but also challenge my physical and mental limits. Archery appealed to me because of its unique combination of technical precision and emotional control, elements that I have always found fascinating and stimulating. From the beginning, I knew that this sport would require absolute dedication and commitment, but I also saw in it the opportunity to represent my country in international competitions and to leave a significant mark on the Cuban sports scene.

Can you relive the exact moment when you realized you had secured your Olympic spot? What went through your mind and how did you react?

During the deciding match, I was aware that every arrow determined whether I would qualify for the Olympic Games. I started strong, winning points quickly, but then I made some mistakes as I got carried away in anticipation of victory and my opponent closed the gap. At that point, I focused on getting my game back on track, reminding myself of the importance of staying calm and focused. As we started the next set with the score at five to three, we both started with good shots, however, there was a turning point, he shot a seven and I experienced an inner relief knowing that I had the margin to recover.

My final strategy was clear: I needed to shoot a ten to secure my lead. My opponent responded with another ten, keeping the pressure on. With nineteen points on my scoreboard and an arrow to shoot, I told myself that I needed to shoot it with confidence and assurance, exactly as we had trained. It was an intense situation, knowing that this arrow decided my Olympic ticket. As I shot, I felt the pressure, but I kept my cool. It was a nine, enough to win and secure my qualification.

I felt an overwhelming mix of emotions: joy, relief and deep gratitude for all the effort and sacrifice we had made to get there.

In that instant, all the hard work and perseverance crystallized into such a significant achievement. My mind was filled with thoughts of what this achievement meant for my career and for me personally, epitomized by the opportunity to represent my country at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

The first thing that came to my mind was my parents who are no longer around. It was an overwhelming emotion, I could hardly hold back the tears. Participating in an Olympic Games was my father’s dream, something he had worked tirelessly for. For me, this achievement was the most special thing, a kind of sweet victory, albeit with a bittersweet taste. I always miss that hug, that moment of arriving home and sharing with them the achievement. In every competition, after returning, he was there with his smile, his hug, telling me that I was a champion. I dedicate this achievement to him. I promised him results, and although he is no longer physically here, I feel I fulfilled his wish.

The tournament in Antalya was intense, what was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you manage to overcome it?

The tournament in Antalya represented a new experience and a significant challenge, especially due to the pressure of Olympic qualification. Controlling emotions and anxiety under such intense tension was crucial. I always kept the focus on the work we put in during daily training. I firmly believe that daily training is the fundamental basis that provides solid results in competition. It is where you accumulate physical and technical experience, and establish the foundation to face short but intense competitions.

In addition to the physical aspect, psychological control was decisive. Taking advantage of that advantage in the mental domain was crucial in that scenario. I also consider that luck played an important role, accompanying me at the right time.

Hugo Franco won the Olympic place for Cuba in the last qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games in Antalya, Turkey. The Cuban was the only archer from the American continent who continued competing after the first individual elimination round and certified the Olympic pass in the quarterfinals by defeating Faez Mohammadizardkhaneh of Iran 7-3 in the fifth set.

Was there a moment in the tournament when you felt doubts or insecurities? How did you handle them to move forward?

The first duel is always the most difficult because it is when you “break the ice”. My first match against Czech Richard Krejci was very tense. I felt a lot of pressure, I needed to win to gain confidence and loosen up. Once I got over that hurdle, I felt more confident in the following matches.

Personally, I don’t experience insecurity on a frequent basis. However, occasionally a slight fear may arise, such as the fear of making a bad shot or missing an arrow. But I think it’s a normal thing that can happen. The key is to quickly recognize those negative thoughts, reject them, and remain confident in my preparedness. It’s important to accept the idea, calm down and remember that even if something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. In sport, especially in archery, mental and emotional control is critical.

What role has your family played in this achievement and how have they influenced your career?

I have had the opportunity to participate in four pre-Olympic cycles: in 2012, 2016, 2021 and now in 2024, with key continental and world competitions such as the recent one in Turkey. The support of my family has been fundamental throughout these years. Whenever I finished a competition, the first thing I did was call my dad to tell him how I had done, and his unconditional support always meant a lot to me. Now, in this new stage of my life with my wife and son, and with a baby girl on the way, my wife’s support has been extraordinary. She has made many sacrifices in moving with me to Pinar del Rio, leaving her hometown behind. Although we have faced challenges and disagreements, she has never asked me to choose between sports and family. His experience as an athlete understands my priorities, and he has encouraged me to keep going, even when I considered leaving the sport to devote more time to my family. His support and understanding have been critical to me this season, and I greatly appreciate his motivation to continue pursuing my athletic dreams.

Mental preparation is crucial in high-level competitions. What techniques or routines do you follow to stay focused and calm under pressure?

Mental preparation is crucial in my sports career. To stay focused and calm under pressure, I follow several techniques and routines. One of the most important is visualization. Before every major competition, I visualize every detail: from the moment I arrive on the course to each of my perfect shots. This helps me familiarize myself with the environment and feel more confident when it’s time to compete. In addition, I work a lot on breathing control and relaxation techniques to stay calm in intense situations. Time management is also crucial. I learned to manage time pressure during competitions and to concentrate on each shot, blocking out external distractions. This is all part of my overall preparation, not only physically, but also mentally, to make sure I perform at my best in every important event.

Your coach Reiter Tellez has been a key figure in your career. How would you describe his influence on your development as a goalkeeper and as a person?

Reiter has been fundamental. I started with him from the junior national team and he has always been a pillar in my life. He is like a second father to me. He always reminds me to keep working hard, even after great achievements. I am eternally grateful for his guidance and support.

What do you expect from Paris 2024?

The goal is to be ready to compete at the highest level, but beyond the purely sporting, I hope to inspire other Cuban archers and show that, with dedication and hard work, dreams can come true. I want to represent my country with pride and give my best.

Being in Paris is also the result of overcoming many challenges. What message do you leave for people like you who face obstacles in the pursuit of their dreams?

In sports, especially, you have to be willing to work hard, consciously and constantly. You have to sacrifice a lot of things: parties, free time, even part of your youth. But when you do it with passion and a clear objective, and you have the support of your family and loved ones, and you finally achieve your goals, you realize that all the effort has been worth it. So my advice is simple: work, work, work and keep that persevering mentality. To make a difference, you have to be willing to do different things, and therein lies the key to all success in my career and in life in general.

Hugo Franco is the seventh Cuban archer to participate in the Olympic Games. Previously, Juan Carlos Stevens, Ismely Arias, Yaremis Pérez, Edisbel Martínez, Maydenia Sarduy and Adrián Puentes had achieved the coveted place.

Hugo not only represents Cuba in the world of archery, but he is also an example of how obstacles can be turned into opportunities. We are sure that he will continue to leave footprints on his way to the Olympic Games, inspiring many to pursue their own dreams with the same fervor and conviction.

Archery at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games will begin on July 25 with the individual ranking rounds in both genders, and will continue on July 28, with the other events, until August 4, at the Invalides esplanade.

Written by Lilyan Cid


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