by Raul Menchaca
Cuban ex-football player Erick Hernandez has a boundless mastery of the ball that was proved once again over the weekend after he set a new Guinness World Record.
On Saturday, Hernandez, 52, broke his previous record by bouncing the ball on his head for an hour and 59 seconds while sitting with 1.5-kilogram weights on each ankle.
In July of last year, he won the record with a time of 43 minutes and five seconds.
The challenge, he told Xinhua, lies in being seated, because it is harder to bat the ball when you're virtually immobile.
"The base of controlling the ball with the head is in the feet, and when you're sitting, you're not using your lower limbs, so you have to give impetus to the ball with your upper body and that makes it very difficult to break this record," Hernandez said.
During the record-breaking attempt, Douglas Hernandez, Erick's coach and older brother, was relaxed and unconcerned, a testament to his confidence in his pupil.
"He has undergone strict training to strengthen all of the upper back and neck, which are the parts that work the most in this feat," said Douglas, who has set a few records of his own.
Today, he is happy to coach his brother, one in a long line of Cuban record holders.
In this attempt, Erick used a Telstar 18, the official match ball of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and trained for a month just to strengthen his back muscles.
"I strengthened a little more the upper back, shoulders and neck muscles, sternocleidomastoid (that turn the head) and the whole area of the trapezius," said Erick.
He also worked on the muscles that surround the scapula, in addition to the triceps, biceps and pectorals, to be able to withstand the time of the test.
"As time passes, fatigue sets in and you feel pain and that is what makes you lose control of the ball," he said.
Erick intends to end the year with a new endurance record: controlling the ball with just his feet while also wearing 1.5-kilogram weights on each ankle.
Though controlling the ball with his head is his specialty -- because, as Douglas explained, "he is tall and his center of gravity is higher, so that makes the job easier" -- Erick can control the ball with every part of his body, setting records with his feet, knees, thighs and head.
Erick's career as a football player was somewhat lackluster, but he has set some 70 records in different feats since 1994, when he decided to follow in the footsteps of his brother.
His favorite challenges are the long endurance tests.
"Those that last eight hours or more are my favorites, because even if I'm not having a good day, they give me the opportunity to get better as the test goes on," said Erick.
"The short ones are the ones I respect most. Those that last seconds, a minute. If you are not in optimal psychological shape, it is hard for you to do," he added.
Erick set his first world record in 1998, controlling the ball with his feet and head for 10 hours.