Wilfredo Leon – Chasing the elusive dream

An illustrious career, but still missing an Olympic appearance

It has been a long wait for the 27-year-old but with Poland already qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, he is being forced to be patient for a little while longer before he steps on an Olympic court for the first time.

Outside hitter Leon was born in Cuba and played for the island nation when he was 14 and captained the team when he was 17. After he left to play in Russia in 2013, he later gained Polish citizenship through his Polish wife in 2015 before he received the final clearance to play for the 2014 and 2018 world champions in 2019.

“Of course, every athlete’s dream is to play at the Olympic Games, but I am not frustrated because of not having Olympic Games experience,” Leon said after being given permission to wear the red and white of Poland.

“Now, after receiving the FIVB’s permission to play for Poland, I have a real chance to play in Tokyo 2020.”

Once his clearance came through, he immediately began helping Poland to more success by winning a silver medal at the Japan 2019 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Cup, and bronze medal at the CEV 2019 European Championship.

Tokyo 2020 bound

Then he helped Vital Heynen’s team win their pool in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Gdansk.

The home fans in the Polish port city were given a taste of what he can bring to the team by scoring 35 points in their three matches, wins over Tunisia, France and Slovenia that secured their place at Tokyo 2020.

“I think we have a good chance,” he told Argentinean website Somos Voley. “With another year to prepare, we’ll have more time to work on our chemistry and I think my teammates and I are going to benefit from having more time with each other.

“The Olympics in 2021 are a chance for us to regroup and will help us to get better prepared. We have a good team, and we can fight for a gold medal.”

At Tokyo 2020 Leon is likely to form a powerful trio of attackers with opposite Bartosz Kurek and outside hitter Michal Kubiak.

Wilfredo Leon (POL) spikes

A medal at Tokyo 2020 would cap a career laden with medals that began when he helped Cuba win silver at the 2009 FIVB Volleyball U21 World Championship, and continued with silver at the 2009 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup , gold at the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, silver at the Italy 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men's World and bronze from the 2012 FIVB World League.

The 202cm-tall Leon has been equally successful in his club career.

More to come

After joining Zenit Kazan, he won the Poland 2017 FIVB Volleyball Men’s Club World Championship and scored 19 points in the 3-0 (27-25, 25-22, 25-22) win over Lube Civitanova in the gold medal match.

Leon also won four CEV Champions League titles, then in 2018 he moved to Italy and Sir Safety Perugia which meant he came under the day-to-day guidance of Poland coach Heynen who also coaches the Italian team.

In his short time in central Italy he has won two SuperCoppa Italia titles and one Coppa Italia. Furthermore, he has also improved his service from 134km-per-hour to 138kph.

For a player still three years off his 30th birthday, Leon has already packed in a vast amount of experience and success into his career, and now that his Poland adventure is fully up and running, he is confident there is more to come.

“There has never been a word of regret because I didn’t choose another country to represent. My desire has always been Poland,” he said. “My wife is Polish, and my daughter was born in Poland.

“Poland is my home now. I did not think of representing another country, so I would not even say that I made the choice. I chose the country where I wanted to live and desire to play in this national team was a natural thing after receiving the Polish citizenship."

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