López and his biggest battle against time. GETTY IMAGES

Cuba's Mijain Lopez is fighting to make history in his quest for a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal. If he succeeds, he will enter the Olympic pantheon as the only wrestler to achieve this feat at the Summer Games.

Cuban wrestler Mijaín López is aiming for absolute glory to become one of the two athletes with the most Olympic titles, but he faces a major obstacle: the passage of time and his own age (almost 42) between now and Paris 2024.

No one has achieved this feat in the history of the modern Olympic Games, although Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst became the first athlete to win individual gold medals at five different editions of the Winter Games when she won the 1500 metres at Beijing 2022.

The Cuban athlete knows he has a chance to make history. "I will do it," López told AFP a few days ago. He knows that if he succeeds, he will be the only one at the Summer Games to do so, joining the ranks of great Olympic gold medallists such as Michael Phelps (23), Larisa Latynina, Paavo Nurmi or even Carl Lewis, all with nine Olympic titles.

The difference with them is that they have overcome the passage of time, which is almost impossible for any athlete. If the Cuban wins gold in Paris in 2024, he will become the only man to win gold at five consecutive Games, a feat that will go down in history.

"The fatigue is there, the physical pain is there, so the mind has to be strong, the motivation has to be even stronger," he said after an intense three-hour session on the mats at the Cerro Pelado High Performance Centre in Havana.

Mijain Lopez celebrates with his team after beating Kajaia in the Tokyo 2020 final. GETTY IMAGES
Mijain Lopez celebrates with his team after beating Kajaia in the Tokyo 2020 final. GETTY IMAGES

He turns his pain and fatigue into motivation, but will his professionalism and titanic effort be enough to break the time barrier? That's the big question to ve solved in Paris.

The 1.98 metre Greco-Roman wrestler knows that he is one Olympic game, one gold away from surpassing the greats of world Olympism who have not achieved it. Carl Lewis (long jump), Michael Phelps (swimming, 200m individual medley) and Al Oerter (discus), Denmark's Paul Elvstrøm (sailing) and Japan's Kaori Icho (wrestling) all failed to beat the clock and retire with gold medals from four consecutive Olympic Games.

These five athletes are in the Olympian realm of sporting gods, they are the ones who have managed to beat time and go down in history, but the Cuban knows that it will be up to him to erase them and become the only one, the master of Olympism in terms of time to gold.

Many thought his career would end at Tokyo 2020. On the eve of his 39th birthday, the Cuban giant defeated Georgia's Iakobi Kajaia in the 130kg category in the Japanese capital in 2021 (postponed by a year because of Covid).

In fact, he hasn't competed since then and his big chance to do what no one has ever done seemed to be fading away, but no, the Cuban is determined to fight again, not only against his opponents but also against his own years and the passage of time.

Mijain Lopez (red) and Iakobi Kajaia in the Greco-Roman 130kg final at Tokyo 2020. GETTY IMAGES
Mijain Lopez (red) and Iakobi Kajaia in the Greco-Roman 130kg final at Tokyo 2020. GETTY IMAGES

The first battle he fought was with himself, stabilising his weight at under 130kg. He is still a few kilos over, but the training sessions are showing results. López believes a fifth Olympic title is "an achievable goal. It's just a matter of listening to the coach and trusting all his training plans".

He is well aware that at his age, injuries can work against him, so he cannot deviate from the strict plans. "I don't want to get injured... and then I go to Paris to fight," is his motto. "We spent two months in training centres in Croatia and Bulgaria, where I was lucky enough to train with elite athletes," insists the Cuban, who turns 42 on 20 August, nine days after Paris 2024 ends.

It was a good opportunity to test himself against some of the best wrestlers in his category, such as China's Meng Lingzhe and Egypt's Mohamed Abdellatif, ranked fourth and fifth in the world respectively. 

Preparations will continue in the resort town of Varadero, 150km east of Havana, before travelling to the Champ de Mars Arena, where López will attempt to outdo everyone at the Summer Games and equal Wust in all Olympic events.