Cuba's world record holder Dayron Robles says he is going to give the cold shoulder to his Chinese friend Liu Xiang in London, where he aims to become only the third man to win the 110m hurdles at successive Olympic Games.
"Off the track we're friends but in competitions I need to win and this is a war always," Robles declared, albeit with a smile. "But Liu Xiang, wherever he competes, is a rival worthy of admiration for his consistency and sporting discipline."
Robles will be looking to avoid all racing contact after his bitter experience at last year's World Championships final in Daegu where the Cuban, who finished first, was disqualified for obstructing the Chinese. It meant the American Jason Richardson was awarded the gold medal and Liu, who had come in third, took silver.
Robles, the Pan-American Games champion, is taking his last strides as a hurdler at the Olympics before retirement at the age of 25. He has been plagued by injuries that have hampered his chances of competing at his best since winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Games, and had to pull out of last weekend's Diamond League meeting in New York – which would have been his racing debut in the United States – with a leg injury.
"We know all the rival athletes want to win a medal and are preparing hard to get to the Olympic Games in good form," Robles said. "I'm looking to achieve a great performance and find my optimum form, factors that give me confidence to reach my peak condition," he added, adjusting his trademark spectacles.
He practises his technique under a searing Caribbean sun every morning as he prepares for the challenge from his well-known rivals and emerging Cuban talent Orlando Ortega, who beat him at a recent meeting in Havana.
The only two men so far to retain their Olympic 110m hurdles title are the Americans Lee Calhoun (Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960) and Roger Kingdom (Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988). The 6ft 3in Cuban is one of Latin America's strongest medal hopes in London despite failing to medal at the last two World Championships, in Berlin in 2009 before that disqualification in Daegu.
The Americans Richardson, David Oliver, who won bronze in Beijing, and the world 60m hurdles champion Aries Merritt are his chief rivals along with the 2004 Olympic champion Liu.
Liu is in good form, having recovered from 2008 surgery, and won at last weekend's Diamond League meeting in Eugene, Oregon, unofficially equalling Robles's world-record time of 12.87sec – he was helped by a tailwind of 2.4m per sec, above the allowable limit of 2.0m per sec. Robles's best time this year is 13.18sec.
"I am my own rival, when I'm in good form there are chances that rivals will worry more about you than you about them," said Robles, who is in a proud tradition of Cuban hurdlers. Anier Garcia won gold at the 2000 Sydney Games and then bronze in Athens, while Alejandro Casanas took silver in Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980.