By Ronal Quinones
HAVANA TIMES — It’s less than two weeks now until the 2016 Olympic Games (Aug. 5-21) begin in Rio de Janeiro, and Cuba has before it the challenge of being amongst the top 20 countries in the medal standings.
Those times of almost reaching the top 5 ended about a decade ago, and today ending up among the top 25 seems to be a more reasonable bet, although if Russia is definitely banned from these summer games, this could change for better or for worse, I don’t know, because every sport is different and whatever they won’t win could be won be somebody else.
Traditionally, boxing has been the flagship in Cuban sport and there won’t be any exceptions in Brazil. For these Games, Cuba will take a very comprehensive team, where practically all of its members are potential medal winners who performed exceedingly well in the four years since the London Olympics.
All of them have dozens of international fights uder their belts, and with a favorable balance in the majority of cases, as it’s well known that our weak point lies in the super heavyweight category. It will be no surprise if the rest of them who travel to Brazil, come back not only with a medal but with a gold medal.
Our main expectations fall on Lazaro Alvarez (60 kilograms) and Julio Cesar La Cruz (81), who has won several international titles over the course of his career, with things looking positively for Yobany Veitia (52), Arlen Lopez (75) and Erislandy Savon (91).
Johannys Argilagos (49) was crowned world champion at the last World Boxing Championships, and he should take to the podium with even more confidence now, just like Yasniel Toledo (64), while London 2012 Games winners, Robeisy Ramirez (56) and Roniel Iglesias (69) are capable of winning gold again, even if their performances over the last few years haven’t been that promising.
The challenge ahead of the boxing technical team led by Rolando Acebal is to beat what they achieved four years ago in London, where they should be looking to win three gold medals, and more optimistic dreamers think it might be even more.
Another sport where we may have more than one champion is wrestling, as Mijain Lopez is the man to beat in the superweight division in Greco-Roman wrestling, where Ismael Borrero (55) also stands out, and in the freestyle category, things are looking very promising for Yowlys Bonne (57), Livan Lopez (74) and Reineris Salas (86), the most consistent over recent years.
If anybody is set to see the Cuban flag waving above them more than once at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, it’s gymnast Manrique Larduet. Winning silver at last year’s World Artistic Gymnastics Championship allows us to dream that he might be the first to win gold in Cuban gymnastics at the Olympics. If the pain he’s been experiencing over the last few months isn’t too serious (according to doctors and trainers it isn’t but they could just be saying that so that we don’t get alarmed), he could make history.
On the other hand, track and field events should also serve as a springboard for Cuba’s medal standing, as with the Russians banned, chances of the pole-vaulter Yarisley Silva to win gold have increased and discus throwers and triple jumpers toy with winning medals too.
Judo depends on its superstar again: gold medal winner at the London Olympics Idalys Ortiz (over 78 kilograms), and amongst the men, Cuba will also have favorites for their respective categories representing it, Asley Gonzalez (90) who is returning after surgery and Jose Armenteros (100).
Only one Cuban tae kwon do fighter will be present at the next games underneath the five rings, but Rafael Alba (over 80 kilograms) has been world champion in the past and has defeated the best in his weight category. Therefore, his sights should be on a gold medal. Working against him is the fact that this will be his first time competing in the Olympics, and a lot of the time this works against the inexperienced.
Four years ago, Leurys Pupo gave us a great surprise when he won the 25m rapid-fire pistol event, and although he is still the Caribbean’s trump card in shooting events, his recent performances have made it clear that taking to the podium again to win another medal will be an even greater surprise.
It’s unlikely that canoeists will arrive with the glory of recent years even though they’ve won more than one medal in important competitions, they haven’t been performing consistently and finishing amongst the top 3 will be a great feat for them.
Rower Angel Fournier might have more chances, as he won medals of every color at the World Cup, but the high quality of his competition in this sport will make his stepping up to the podium very difficult, and he’ll only be able to achieve his goal if he knows how to use his efforts very well.
A lot is expected of Cuba’s cyclists too, especially Arlenis Sierra and Lisandro Guerra, the first in endurance cycling and the second in track cycling. However, this is a sport where technology also plays a very important role and the Antilles don’t have the latest in bicycle materials.
The only team sport where Cuba was able to classify is in crisis again. The alleged rape crime case made against volleyball players in Finland has left the Cuban squad without a leader again and a team made up primarily of younger players will go to Rio. The scandal has cost the position of the teams coach, and beginning to row with a new mentor will be another burden in the martyrdom that awaits them in Brazil.
In 2015, Cuba had seven world champions, and between this number and 10 should be the total of gold medallists at Rio, in the most optimistic of predictions. We already know that anybody can have a bad day, or where referees also influence the sport, people can be disadvantaged, or maybe the out of ordinary happens, but by rule of thumb, when a favorite doesn’t perform as expected, there’s normally a surprise that makes up for this in another event. In less than a month we’ll know how close to or how far from reality we were.
|1||United States (USA)‡||46||28||29||103|
|3||Great Britain (GBR)*||29||17||19||65|
|5||South Korea (KOR)||13||8||7||28|
|15||New Zealand (NZL)‡||6||2||5||13|
|19||Czech Republic (CZE)||4||3||3||10|
|20||North Korea (PRK)||4||0||2||6|
|23||South Africa (RSA)||3||2||1||6|
|46||Dominican Republic (DOM)||1||1||0||2|
|47||Trinidad and Tobago (TRI)||1||0||3||4|
|Puerto Rico (PUR)||0||1||1||2|
|Chinese Taipei (TPE)||0||1||1||2|
|Hong Kong (HKG)||0||0||1||1|
|Saudi Arabia (KSA)||0||0||1||1|
|Total (85 NOCs)||301||303||355||960|