By Andrea Sosa Cabrios
HAVANA TIMES — Cuba didn’t fare too well at the Pan-American Games. For the first time since 1967, it came in fourth, bumped back from the habitual second place, and saw an avalanche of desertions by athletes who left for the United States.
Its mastery in boxing and victory in the Men’s marathon were not enough to change the tide during the final sprint at Toronto 2015. Canada could not be kept from securing second place and Brazil, which will host the Olympics in 2016 and came in third, didn’t let it get ahead as the games closed.
Cuba’s Richer Perez kissed the ground after crossing the finishing line at the marathon. “I saved my strength throughout to get the gold medal my country and revolution needed,” he said.
A team of boxers, made up of such figures as Olympic medalist Alvaro Lazo and Erislandy Savon, pitched in as well, securing six gold medals, convinced those “medals can helps us rise to the top,” as Savon stated.
But the effort was not enough. Canada more than doubled the 36 golds and 97 total medals won by Cuba, while Brazil, which, before the marathon and the last boxing rounds, was only ahead by four golds, put more distance between the countries with the help of its team sports and ended with 141 medals, 41 of them gold.
“It’s been a very demanding event, where Canada demonstrated its ability to take full advantage of its condition as host and very well trained teams,” head of the Cuban sports delegation Eduardo Becali said.
The host country organized an extraordinary sporting event, with a delegation of 719 top-rate athletes, pitted against the 461 Cubans who traveled to Toronto.
The head of Cuba’s delegation underscored that even the United States, which has traditionally secured many medals, needed a week to overtake Canada’s place at the top.
In addition, “we also have Brazil’s demonstrated abilities. Brazil will evaluate everything it needs to do to achieve a great performance when it hosts the Olympics next year,” Becali pointed out.
The continental arena is no longer what it was when Cuba was at least able to secure second place at the Pan-American Games, since Cali, 1971.
Desertions also struck at the team’s morale. Though not confirmed by the leadership of the delegation, players, trainers and Cuban media confirmed at least twenty desertions.
The absences were felt particularly at the field hockey matches. Fifteen of the thirty-two players in the male and female selections vanished.
Cuba had to play Trinidad and Tobago with 8 rather than 11 players, for it had no more players or replacements. Only 9 female players competed against the Dominican Republic in the last match on Friday.
“We have to go back to Cuba and rethink our plans because we’re missing a lot of players who decided to leave us,” Cuban hockey player Mileysi Argentel said after the games in Toronto were over.
According to rowing team coach and the Cuban Internet portal Cuba Si, four rowers and two divers also deserted the Cuban delegation.
Toronto is less than 200 kilometers away from the US border. The United States grants Cubans immediate residency upon their arrival in the country.
“We’ll conduct our assessment at the end of the competition, with a view to doing better in the future,” Becali said. “Over and above any dissatisfaction regarding our performance, which exist, is the recognition that we have strived with decorum for every title in dispute.”
|1||United States (USA)||103||81||81||265|
|13||Dominican Republic (DOM)||3||11||10||24|
|15||Trinidad and Tobago (TRI)||3||3||2||8|
|17||Puerto Rico (PUR)||1||1||13||15|
|19||Saint Lucia (LCA)2||1||0||0||1|
|20||El Salvador (ESA)||0||1||2||3|
|25||Antigua and Barbuda (ANT)||0||1||0||1|
|28||Costa Rica (CRC)||0||0||1||1|
|28||Saint Kitts and Nevis (SKN)||0||0||1||1|
|28||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (VIN)||0||0||1||1|