By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – The Tokyo Olympic Games were postponed last year, and the subsequent cancellation of many tournaments and qualifying events has meant that many delegations that will participate in this sports event are still incomplete.
Even though there are rumors that there won’t be any games at all, most of those involved do believe that the Olympics can go ahead, now that many countries are in the middle of vaccinating against COVID-19.
China made a significant donation to the International Olympic Committee so that all qualifying athletes can be vaccinated, so this wouldn’t interfere with priorities in every country, which gives us some hope that this long-awaited global sports event can take place.
Here, Cuban athletes have already received the first dose of Soberana 02, the antigen that Cuba is developing, which is still in its experimental phase. This potential vaccine still hasn’t been officially authorized for mass use, but it is in Phase III of clinical trials, and is already being administered to different groups as part of an “intervention” or broad study.
Getting down to the sports side of it all, it is expected that Cuba will attend the Japan Olympics with its smallest delegation, since the last time the Japanese capital held the Games in 1964 and we went with 27 athletes.
In 1968, Cuba went to the Mexico Olympics with 125, and we have always gone with over 100 contestants ever since then. The lowest number being in the London 2012 Olympics (110), followed by the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics (123).
Right now, with just a few months before the Olympics kick off (July 23rd), Cuba has 44 qualifiers, and if we’re being optimistic, we won’t have any more than 80.
The most recent ticket recently went to table tennis player Daniela Fonseca, and she is the first Cuban to qualify in this sport since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Up until now, athletes have qualified via the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, pre-Olympic events, brand quotas and direct invitations. Athletics have taken the lead with 14 Cubans qualifying, followed by wrestling (12), while shooting has 5 representatives and canoeing has four.
Those who will definitely compete include two artistic gymnasts and a modern pentathlon athlete, plus one in cycling, taekwondo and rowing.
So what’s left for Cuba then?
Judo and boxing are the two strong disciplines that have yet to close their qualifying process, and they will both be decided via global rankings.
This has always been the case for judo, but it’s something new for boxing, after continental qualifying events were canceled for good, ours was supposed to happen in Argentina. The 2016 qualifier was also held there, when only one place was left, which Robeysi Ramirez managed to win at the last chance and he turned it into Olympic gold.
This time, everything will be decided in offices, with the difficulty of not knowing which events will be chosen for them to base their criteria beyond the World Cycles (2017 and 2019). As we know, our fighters don’t compete a lot internationally, so if they do select qualifiers the same way they do for judo, we’ll be at a disadvantage
If only global and continental tournaments are taken into account, then we might have a chance of taking a full male team, because we’re still in the last century when it comes to female boxing, and it still isn’t practiced officially.
Wrestling, canoeing and athletics can increase their number of qualifiers in upcoming weeks, while fencing, diving, weightlifting, triathlon, swimming, beach volleyball and baseball still have options.
Baseball is the only team sport that Cuba still has a chance. However it is slim because it means winning the qualifier in Florida next month, facing selections on the top of their game, such as the US, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Coming up in the top three, which would still give Cuba room to take part in the last qualifier, is already hard enough, but important teams from Asia will also go to this event, and only one place is being given to the champion.
Wrestlers have already made a significant contribution to the delegation, that might grow when they compete in the global tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, with great chances of adding at least two names to freestyle, one male and one female.
Weightlifting now has the Pan American Weightlifting Championships in the Dominican Republic in the next few days, which will complete the qualifying process. As this discipline is also decided via rankings after adding up points in the cycle.
Two female duos in beach volleyball are also trying to make it to Japan via rankings. On the other hand, swimming has one with a B, which could qualify, or make it directly if they improve in upcoming weeks, just like a couple of high jumpers and the heptathlon in Athletics.
Talking about podium positions is already a little difficult, as most experts agree that we will get around 10 medals, with real forecasts estimating four gold. This total is similar to what Cuba obtained four years ago (11), but we’re thinking about one medal less this time.
In the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, gold medals were only won in wrestling and boxing, and it will probably be the same this time around. In fact, the candidates are the same: Mijain Lopez and Ismael Borrero in Greco-Roman wrestling, and boxers Julio Cesar La Cruz and Andy Cruz.
Discus throwers Denia Caballero and Yaime Perez are in a second group, and triple jumper Juan Miguel Echevarria, along with judokas Idalis Ortiz and Ivan Silva, and boxers Lazaro Alvarez and Arlen Lopez. They might even be able to surprise us and win the crown, but it depends on how they compete on Japanese soil.
In the last group of possible medal-winners we have the C-2 canoeing duo Serguei Torres and Fernando Dayan Jorge, taekwondo master Rafael Alba, and shooter Leuris Pupo. They might make gold, but if they don’t make it onto the podium, it won’t be a total failure either.
That’s how things are looking right now, we’ll have to see how things go in the next few months.