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Ana Fidelia Quirot

Sun., July 14, 1996, midnight

Track and field

Laughter comes easily to Ana Quirot. Self-effacing jokes about men, her privileged friendship with Fidel Castro. But it doesn’t mask a fierce will to win that once saved the Cuban runner’s life and now has her bound for the Olympics.

“I may look calm. But inside, I’m a little restless,” she said. “The whole world wants me to win.”

Ana Fidelia Quirot already has. The former world champion in the 800 meters and 1992 Olympic bronze medalist has made a miraculous comeback from a 1993 fire that took the life of her unborn child and nearly her own. Like many Cubans do every day, Quirot was using a kerosene cooker to wash clothes in her kitchen when the fire occurred.

A mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water, which she was using to wash her clothes on the stove, flowed over the lip of the pot, down the sides and burst into flames.

For weeks she lay near death at Havana’s Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital, burns covering a third of her body. Doctors induced labor to save the baby, conceived with her then-boyfriend, star high jumper Javier Sotomayor. The girl died.

One blow followed another. Quirot’s former husband, freestyle wrestler Raul Cascaret, died in a car accident. It would take most of the year, one of searing pain, repeated skin grafts and surgery, before she could train again.

The scars on her face, arms and hands are healing but still evident. Last year, Quirot marked her successful return to international competition by winning the world 800 title in Goteborg, Sweden. She also won the 800 in the Atlanta Grand Prix meet in May.

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