Por Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES — About a decade ago, the Central American and Caribbean Games were a cake walk, for Cuba. The dominance of Cuban sports was such that it used to breeze at regional trials, where they even enjoyed the privilege of leaving their star athletes at home and still win the competition with ease.
However, the decline in athletic performance from Cuba and the unquestionable improvement of its neighbouring countries have put things on a more equal footing. For example, at the last competition of this kind where Cuba took part, the Cartagena, Colombia games in 2006, it was not until the last few days that Cuba was able to sit comfortably at the top of the medal table.
We are going to tell you what trainers, federation members and athletes hope for predict for at Veracruz-2014, sport by sport, as they let us in on their strategies, in order to win back the throne they lost by not taking part in Mayagüez-2010. In this first part, we’re going to look at the main individual sports.
Cuba should win 18 to 20 titles, with a delegation of more than 60 athletes, only three of whom were champions at Cartagena 2006, where they won 21 gold medals in Athletics.
Sergio Martínez, national methodologist of this sporting discipline, explained that Cuba’s best chances are in the fields of javelin, jumps, decathlon and heptathlon; as well as other prizes that could be won in hurdles and running, depending on the opponents they face, namely the Caribbeans.
We’re aiming for eight titles in Veracruz, said the Cuban Boxing Federation’s President, Alberto Puig.
The team of 10 boxers is led by Olympic champions Robeisy Ramírez and Roniel Iglesias, two-time world champions Lázaro Álvarez and Julio César La Cruz, and the two-time runner-up second place world champion Yasnier Toledo. Many favourites will also participate, including Yosbany Veitía y Erislandy Savón, performing brilliantly in the last few months. The squads weak points are the young Santiago Amador, Arlen López and Yoandy Toirac, although according to Puig, “we’re also hoping that they give us cause to celebrate”.
Cuban Judo Federation President, Rafael Manso, said the goal is to win 13 gold medals and five bronze: seven golds are expected to be won by the women and the other six by the men, with two third places going to the women and the other three to the men.
According to Manso, “the match raffle will influence the results greatly, as we recently had to open the Pan American Festival that took place in Mexico, up against the strongest opponents, whilst the Mexicans, on the other hand, had an easy ride.”
In keeping with his personality, the Wrestling Federation President, Eduardo Pérez Téllez, didn’t speak of medals and even refused to reveal the final teams to us, but in the absence of the Federation’s clarity, we are going to take a shot and bet that they are going after at least 12 titles, out of the 18 that up for grabs.
As part of this delegation, one of the most followed athletes, Mijaín López, will also go to Veracruz in search of the only medal that is missing from his career, as the result was not valid when he competed in Cartagena-2006, when the minimum requirement for his division of five fighters was not met.
“I know our level isn’t that high, but I’m still going pumped up because I really want to win that last medal I’m missing,” he confessed.
Héctor Marcos, the technical director of cycling, was much more precise and told us that they were going to Mexico after six gold, three silver and three bronze medals, nearly all of them to be won by the women competitors, although oddly enough, the team will be made up of 22 men and only eight women.
The only man they are betting on to get third place is Arnold Alcolea, but all of the rest of the prizes are meant for the women, headed by Lisandra Guerra and Marlies Mejías, who should win more than one medal each.
“Colombia will most probably win the sport because they have great BMX skills, an event in which we are not participating, but we’re going to take a few medals off of them on the track,” said Marcos.
The current state of fencing is nothing short of an enigma, as the National Commissioner, Rigoberto Morejón, said that the great majority of those that will travel to Veracruz, have very little international experience, and that the pressure on them to win at the Games may affect their performance for the worse.
“We’ve always won, it’s our tradition, but in this instance we’re going to have to wait and see how these young athletes perform in their debut; only three of the 18 athletes were present at Cartagena 2006. Venezuela is the strongest candidate to win the sport,” Morejón stated, who claimed that they were still waiting to receive the latest equipment to compete in Veracruz-2014.
As no clear markers were given to us in this case either, we’re going to guess that they are aiming for seven gold medals, five of the seven in the collective event and two from the individual one.
Cuba will take seven men and two women to participate in the weightlifting part of the Games, where the men are predicted to “double” their wins in some categories and the women are not expected to win anything due to their lack of experience.
Colombia and Venezuela will be the strongest candidates in most of the categories, but the goal is still to win by teams, stated head trainer Jorge Luis Barcelán.
On this occasion, the lifting and pushing events will be awarded with a prize, but not all of them, and therefore each weightlifter has the chance of winning up to two gold medals. Barcelán did not want to disclose his final team, but we know there are three men with world championships so they are probably after six golds, and the rest of them after about two more.
ROWING AND CANOEING
18 rowers will represent Cuba in Veracruz, and almost all of them will row in two or three events, concentrating their efforts on adding medals. The team is led by the open category’s singles athlete Ángel Fournier, two-time world champion. Head trainer Juan Carlos Reyes said that they should be able to win at least seven titles as a country, their biggest rival being Mexico.
With regard to canoeing, Alejandro Hanze, the President of the Cuban Federation, pointed out that they needed to win at least seven or more of the 13 titles available in order to regain superiority, with 12 or 13 canoeists taking part.
The Taekwondo squad is full of newcomers, although they still remain confident about getting first place, with a payoff of nearly five gold medals, as the National Commissioner of the sport, Carlos Banasco, has claimed.
“We’ve already shown the world the quality of our game on an international level,” said world champion Glenhis Hernández, while Nidia Muñoz, another key player in the team stated: “I hope to bring a medal home, and I’m going to fight my way to make sure it’s a gold one. All of our opponents are going to be tough and we can’t underestimate any of them. We have to face our rivals without fear in order to perform our best.”
Banasco argued that the fact that they had won the Pan American Sports Festival in Mexico, receiving five gold medals and one silver, makes them confident that they would repeat their success at these Games.
The National Commissioner, Rafael Guerra, informed us that 20 Cuban representatives will take part in 13 out of the 17 events in this sport, and are going to try and win back the title they lost to Mexico in Cartagena, where they won 11 gold medals.
These are the individual sports that will most likely win nearly all of the Cuban delegation’s gold medals. For the details about the collective sports go to: www.havanatimes.org/?p=106899