MIGUEL RODRIGUEZ is hoping that 20 days of high-altitude training in his home city of Bogota, Colombia, can boost his chances of World Championship Squash glory.
The Colombian Cannonball, who will be treading the boards in Union Station Chicago in Eye Rackets unique S-Line shoes, is seeded No.6 for the first ever $1million tournament in squash history.
But, speaking exclusively to Eye Rackets, Miguel who will open his campaign against India's Ramit Tandon at lunchtime tomorrow, believes his lung-bursting efforts 2640 metres above sea level can help him join a triumvirate of squash Titans in becoming only the fourth man to hold both British Open and World Championship titles at the same time since the first ever World Open back in 1976.
Rodriguez said: "I Love to go back home to Colombia to train and especially in my home city of Bogota. The benefits are massive as not only am I back in my own house and surrounded by friends and family but I am also training at high-altitude.
"In high-altitude environments you draw in less oxygen per breath than you would at lower altitudes and that means each breath delivers less oxygen to your muscles. That may sound like a negative but living in higher altitudes, and Bogota is 8,660 feet above sea level, way up in the Andes and one of the highest capital cities in the world, a massive benefit to my training…believe me!
"That is because getting used to breathing thinner air can enhance your athletic performance in competitions at lower altitude. So I've had 20 days of intense training at high-altitude and I really believe this can benefit my performance by that one or two percent, that while it may be tiny, can be the difference between winning a tight semi-final or making a final. So, hopefully it will pay off for me in Chicago."
Yet for Miguel the motivation to lift the most distinctive trophy in the sport is also unique. Should the Cannonball fire in Chicago and add the PSA World Championships to the British Open he currently holds, Miguel will be joining the company of a select group of squash immortals.
For since the great Geoff Hurst beat Pakistan's Mohibullah Khan in the first World Open way back in 1976 just three men have gone on to hold both British and World Open titles at the same time with Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan making up this trio of squash Titans.
There have been several near misses in recent times with the back to back years of 2012 and 2013 seeing Ramy Ashour claim World and Nick Matthew British Open titles and 12 months later the order reversed. While on three occasions, like Rodriguez now, Mohamed ElShorbagy has held one but not the other.
When the hugely affable Rodriguez was appraised of this fact when I caught up with the Cannonball earlier this week, before he caught his flight out of Bogota, Miguel readily admitted the revelation had sent his desire be crowned world champ off The Richter Scale.
"It would be a privilege to join such great company as Geoff Hunt, Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan and hold both the British Open and the World Championships at the same time. They are three absolute legends of the squash game, in fact they are immortals of our sport. So, it would be unbelievable to join them but it will be a tremendous challenge," admitted Rodriguez.
The British Open champion continued: "But seriously to become the first ever South American British Open champion was a dream for me and this is my chance to build on that and go one better and I will give it absolutely everything to repeat that success in Chicago over the next fortnight.
"I am coming into the world champs in great shape having benefitted from 20 days back home in Bogota and I have made a few adjustments in my game both mentally and physically that I did not have time to do in the first-half of the season. I really believe that at 33, I am still capable of winning the biggest tournaments.
"So the opportunity to join players of the status of Geoff Hunt, Jahangir and Jansher has just doubled, trebled that motivation. Realistically this could be my only chance to achieve that and I will give it absolutely everything, for sure."
A possible last 16 encounter with British National champ and former World No.1 James Willstrop could await Miguel and that is an encounter the Eye ace would particularly relish: "When I am in England I tend to base myself at Pontefract Squash Club, where I train under Malcolm Willstrop, James' father and also sometimes train with James," said Rodriguez .
He continued: "He is an absolute gentleman and a fantastic squash player and it would be an honour to battle it out with him at a world championships. At a tournament like the PSA World Championships you have to beat the best to be the best and James has certainly been that over the last decade."
It is a potential meeting the 2010 World Championship runner-up would also welcome: "What a brilliant achievement it was for Miguel to win the British Open last year to become the first South American to ever achieve that," admitted James.
The man known as 'The Marksman' continued: "Miguel is an all-round good guy, a hugely entertaining player and if we both make the last 16 I'd love to do battle with him. But both of us have a lot of tough match squash to negotiate before we can contemplate that."
Returning to Miguel, the World No.7, who is seeded six in the Windy City admits that at 33 years-old time is ticking on his hopes of improving on three appearances in the quarter-finals: "I have never been beyond the quarter-finals at the Worlds and so obviously I still feel I have unfinished business with it. But I come to Chicago knowing that I have the ability and knowledge of what it takes to win the biggest tournaments.
"I have 28 PSA Tour titles behind me and been on the tour for nearly 14 years, I believe I am in my best shape and ready to start the tournament at the level of intensity required. Yet, you know I must be honest and admit there will be some butterflies in my stomach when I get on court for the first round but then that's what lets you know you are alive and the juices are flowing."
Exclusive by RJ Mitchell