By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES — Combat sports will once again carry the weight of Cuba’s performance at the 2015 Pan-American Games to be held in Toronto from July 10 to 26, followed by athletics, the other big medal-winning discipline for the island.
Recently, we were able to get a first-hand glimpse at the expectations of the leading athletes or strategists in each of these disciplines, who detailed what they hope to contribute to keep Cuba second on the medal’s list, behind only the United States.
BOXING: if there is one team that goes out there to win them all, that’s Cuba’s boxing team – and it often manages to come close. In both Guadalajara 2011 and Veracruz 2014, it did not secure the gold in only one of the fights, and results should be similar this time around. Only in the 49 and over 91-kilogram weight categories can we see any fissures in this squad, but even those boxers stand a chance to come out victorious in the continent.
WRESTLING: authorities in this discipline announced that their goal is to secure around 16 medals (10 of them gold), which would require that practically all those sent to compete to the Canadian city to take the podium, and most of them to stand at the center. As is customary, the most important competition will be Greco-Roman wrestling, where Cuba has come out on top for decades. The freestyle competition against the United States should be more heated, but Cuba can still walk away with some awards, as can the women’s teams, where the United States and Canada should lead.
JUDO: the women’s team is very strong and the men’s team has at least two serious candidates for the gold in world medal-winners Asley Gonzalez (90) and Jose Armenteros (100). Brazil, however, has both male and female world-champion teams and an estimate about Cuba’s takings will be possible once we see what athletes this country takes to Ontario’s capital.
TAEKWONDO: expert Yamil Pavon revealed that Cuba aspires to win two titles to secure second place, behind Mexico. All taekwondo fighters are now focused on competing for the title in their division, but the best odds are with Rafael Alba and Jose Angel Cobas, said Pavon, who did not overlook the bronze medialists at the 2013 Puebla World Championship, Yania Aguirre and Yamicel Nuñez.
ATHLETICS: with a delegation of over 70 athletes, this is Cuba’s largest team and is expected to reap a considerable number of titles.
The Cuban athletics commissioner, Jorge Luis Sanchez, declared that he could not offer an accurate prediction in terms of medals without knowing who the rivals will be, but he did venture to say Cuba ought to secure around a dozen titles and that the island’s greatest potential is to be found in the jump and throw disciplines.
Triple jumper Pedro Pablo Pichardo, pole-vaulter Yarisley Silva, disk-throwers Denia Caballero and Jorge Fernadnez, runners Rose Mary Almanza and Sahily Diago (800 meters) and Roberto Skyers (200 meters), short-distance hurdler Yordan O’Farrill and the 100 and 400-meter relay runners of both genders should be the ones who shine brightest.
ROWING: four are the number of gold medals that the national commissioner for the discipline, Angel Garcia, expects Cuba to win, placing his greatest confidence on the multi-medal winner Angel Fournier. This time around, Fournier won’t face as much of a challenge as he did at the Veracruz Central American Games, where he competed under three different categories. At the Pan-American Games, he will compete only at the single and double-paired categories, and he’s expected to secure a gold in both.
According to Garcia, who also predicts two silvers and two bronzes, the female heavyweight double-pair and male lightweight teams should be the other winners.
CANOEING: Cuban experts predict that, in order to come out victorious in this sport, at least 5 titles must be secured in the 13 competitions (5 of them female). They believe the greatest chances of winning are to be found in the 2-person canoe of Serguey Torress and Rolexis Baez. Torres individually (in the C-1) and kayaker Jorge Garcia (K-1), Reinier Torres and Garcia (K-2) and Yusmary Mengana (K-1 and K-2) should also be in a position to reach the podium. According to the national commissioner, Alejandro Hamze, the toughest battle should be with the Canadians, the traditional champions in this discipline.
SHOOTING: the discipline is being spear-headed by Olympic medalist Leuris Pupo and female shooters Eglys Cruz, Dianelys Perez and Elayne Perez, who have performed very well at multi-discipline sporting events.
In addition to offering a good performance and securing medals for Cuba, the shooters aspire to increase the number of spots reserved for Cuba at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where only Dianelys and Eglys have currently set aside spots.
FENCING: Cuba’s takings in the discipline at Guadalajara 2011 were rather measly (a mere three bronzes), such that matching or beating this record should not be too complicated for the team of 12 fencers set to compete in Toronto.
According to fencing Commissioner Alhadis Banera, fencers of both genders, both individually and collectively, have equal chances of making it to the podium, and this seemed simple enough until Rio de Janeiro 2007, as Cuba had always walked away with an average of 8 medals in the discipline.
DIVING: Jose Antonio Guerra secured a gold medal in 2007, but, since then, his best bet has been at the synchronized diving board, next to Yeinkler Aguirre, who will again be the flag-carrier in the discipline thanks to his more than adequate performance at the World Series.
The head trainer of the national team, Lino Socorro, indicated that Colombia, Mexico, Canada and the United States will be the strongest rivals. In Mexico’s case, Cuba will face a selection of first-rate world divers.
BADMINTON: the silver medal Osleni Guerrero secured at Guadalajara 2011 was an announcement of things to come. Four years later, established as the continental leader in the discipline, the Cubans aspires to a gold medal in the male singles at the coming games.
According to Commissioner Alexis Ramirez, of Cuba’s seven players, Guerrero is the main candidate, though he did not discard the possibility of seeing another medal in a couple competitions.
ARCHERY: In the opinion of chief trainer for the national selection Vladimir Quinta, Cuban archers should secure one or two medals in Toronto. The trainer is also confident the male team competitions will yield good results.
The competition will be difficult, but we have a well-trained team made up of experienced athletes. The singles category will have plenty of competition and see many athletes capable of making it to the podium, but Cubans will be well-prepared for the challenge and anything could happen, he added.
Summer Pan American Games Medals (wikipedia.org)