By Amaury Valdivia (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – Cuban shooter Leuris Pupo and long-jump champion Ivan Pedroso have sold their Olympic medals. The news spread like wildfire among sports fans and colleagues, after a specialist site confirmed that both medals were going up for auction in the US on January 21st, as part of a set that included a bronze medal from the 1896 Athens Olympics and torches from the 1980 and 1988 winter Olympics.
But the Cubans’ prizes were the highlights of the day. The medal won by the Holguin-native shooter was highlighted by the RR Auction company, which organized the event, as a “prodigious 2012 London Games prize serving as a truly magnificent example of Olympic grit and triumph.
”The auction catalog reminded us of Pedroso’s four outdoor world championship medals, and another five he won on the indoor track. “Carl Lewis’s old rival in the long jump event, was a four-time outdoor world champion and a five-time indoor world champion,” the text added, before estimating that the bid would be higher than 20,000 USD. Pupo’s distinction would finally be worth 50,000 USD, according to experts.
Both of these sums were nowhere close: Pupo’s medal ended up sellling for 73,205 USD, while Pedroso’s sold for 71,335 USD.
A close source to RR Auction revealed that the cosignee “is a long-time Olympic collector who has decided to sell the medals in the auction house’s current offering”. “And they do not foresee any problems derived from the sale,” the institution added, which is based in Boston, US.
“According to what different sources have explained, Leuris Pupo had already sold (mis-sold) the medal to a collector a long time ago, who is the person that auctioned the gold medal today,” YouTuber Daguito Valdes explained to his followers. Yet there is even less information about how long jumper Pedroso gave up his medal.
Neither athlete had spoken about the subject at the time of writing this article. Nor had INDER (Cuba’s sports institution).
Regardless of the circumstances of the original sale, it must have been made some years ago. Especially in Ivan Pedroso’s case, who moved to Spain for good, in 2014.
Back then, Pedroso had a successful career as a trainer, and mentor to French athlete Teddy Tamgho (two-time world champion in long jump). More recently, he has taken Venezuelan athlete Yulimar Rojas (Olympic medallist and multiple world champion) under his wing, who was crowned World Athletics top athlete of the Year in 2020.
This isn’t the first time, and it might not be the last
When the International Olympic Committee notified Cuban athlete Yarelis Barrios that she had tested positive in new antidoping tests, in May 2016, carried out on samples kept from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, one of the corresponding sanctions was that she return her silver medal, which she had won during the event.
However, the discus thrower from Pinar del Rio couldn’t do this, because the silver medal had already been auctioned off on eBay. A buyer with the username “vancouvertower” had taken the prize after paying 11,655 USD.
Maybe this case was what made INDER seemingly disinterested in the story, which Barrios complained about at the time. “Nobody has come to ask me anything, to hear me out. I felt alone,” she confessed to Pinar del Rio’s provincial paper. Even though the athlete defended herself by saying that she had handed in her medal to the Pinar del Rio sports museum, that scandal precipitated the end of her career.
Selling medals isn’t common practice among Cuban athletes. To the extent that INDER doesn’t seem to have any specific regulation on the matter. This is what a source from the organization told El Toque, who defended that “the limitation goes without saying.” “There’s nothing like a champion taking their medal to the [sanctuary of] Our Lady of Charity, as payment for a promise, or for them to give it as a gift to a family member or friend, these are common practices in Cuba.”
Up until now, the only athlete in the country who has publicly admitted to selling their medals is Holguin-born boxer Mario Kindelan, a king in the light welterweight category at the Sydney and Athens Olympics. In a documentary he starred in in 2016, he says that he sold his medals for 400 USD, “enough for the family to get by for two months.”
Since 2014, professional Cuban athletes have benefitted from successive pay rises. The most recent, approved in December as part of the currency reorganization process, respects payment scales that differentiated those competing in national, provincial teams, and complimentary rewards medal winners received at international events.
However, the new economic reality in Cuba means that their income isn’t as significant as it was a few years back. To give you an example, in March 2014, the minimum wage for an Olympic medallist was 1500 Cuban pesos per month, 6.6 times the minimum wage at the time (225 CUP). Today, it is only 2.6 times that (5590 Cuban pesos for an Olympic medallist compared to the 2100 pesos for a minimum wage). [24 pesos = 1 US dollar]
However higher cost of living and news such as the recent auction that was held, could have an impact on the hundreds of Cuban medalists over the last 50 years. Seeing Cuban medals in an auction catalogue isn’t what anyone wants, but it’s very likely.