14ymedio, Havana, October 18, 2023 — The delegation of 382 Cubans who arrived in Santiago de Chile this Tuesday to compete in the Pan American Games will have to pluck up their courage to be successful in the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) competition. Marked by the escapes of high-caliber athletes and with few representative figures, the sports authorities do not dare to set the bar too high. At the moment, they barely aspire to between 18 and 22 gold medals, 12 silver and more than 35 bronze medals.
“We would like to be able to talk about many more, but it would not be objective or sincere,” Ariel Sainz, vice president of INDER, admitted in statements to the official media Jit on October 2. According to the director, the desertions are reflected in the performance of each delegation during the competitions. “There are athletes who asked for leave and left the country with permission,” he added in an attempt to justify the bad situation of the sport on the Island.
“The desertions have hurt us a lot,” boxing coach Rolando Acebal told the AFP agency (AFP). “We have had many athletes of great quality who have left; it’s a reality.”
In terms of figures, the crisis is even more worrying. The same director acknowledged that, between January 2022 and October of this year, about 192 athletes left official delegations, and 34 of them “had commitments” with one of the 425 categories of the Santiago de Chile program.
We would like to be able to talk about many more medals, but it would not be objective or sincere
The hopes of achieving gold medals for the Island are reduced to the participation of Julio César la Cruz, Arlen López and Lázaro Álvarez in boxing; Luis Orta and Gabriel Rosillo in Greco-Roman wrestling; Yarislidis Cirilo in kayaking; Idalys Ortiz in judo; Leuris Pupo in shooting and Lázaro Martínez in athletics. They have all been Olympic or world champion medalists.
At age 34, Julio César La Cruz, in the 198-pound category, will book a ticket for Paris 2024 for a third gold in the Olympic Games, after obtaining gold in Tokyo 2020 and Rio de Janeiro 2016.
The Island, which authorized women’s boxing just at the end of last year, will also have three boxers for Chile: Legnis Calá (126 lbs), Arianne Imbert Lamote (146 lbs) and Yakelín Estornell (165 lbs). They all won titles at the Central American and Caribbean Games in San Salvador 2023.
In the past Pan American Games (Lima 2019), boxing won eight gold medals. However, since the abandonment of Andy Cruz after a frustrated escape attempt, the Island’s flagship sport suffered a hard knockout. The results at the Central American and Caribbean Games were also a disappointment, with only two golds added to the national medal table.
Cuba’s flagship sport, baseball, will face the failures of recent years in Santiago de Chile. The escapes of players have been a constant and have hit hard: slugger Osday Silva and pitchers Franky Quintana and Yeudis Reyes fled just a few days ago when the team played in the Caribbean Cup in Puerto Rico.
The isolation in the poor local league system of selectable players, in times when international tournaments open the doors to professionals, has been a determining factor, explained Roberto González Echeverría, professor at Yale University and author of the book The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball (1999), in an interview with AFP.
The Cuban delegation suffered another blow with the absence of the four-time Olympic and Pan-American champion and five-time world champion in the Greco-Roman style, Mijaín López, who decided not to compete in the Pan American Games, recognizing that his preparation was not as successful as he would have wanted, and “he had to lose a lot of weight.”
López, 41, will focus on the Olympic Games in Paris 2024, in which he still aspires to win a fifth medal in the 287-pounds category.
To this loss is added the escape of the gold medalist at the XXIV Central American and Caribbean Games, Hangelen Llanes, who left the team’s training in Paris on September 20 before traveling to Serbia. Currently, the medal options are reduced to Luis Orta (148 lbs) and Gabriel Rosillo (213.9 lbs).
In judo, the Island reports the escapes and abandonments of nine athletes in the last three months. The most recent exit, during the last week of September, was that of Kaliema Antomarchi, bronze medalist at the Budapest World Judo Championships (2017).
The loss of Antomarchi coincided with the escape in Canada of the judokas Samarys Gregorio, Odelin García and Yurisleydis Hernández, who left the team that won second place in the Pan American and Oceania Judo Championship, held in Calgary. And before them, in May, Vanesa Godinez (105.8 lb), Mellisa Hurtado (114.6 lbs), Santa Virgen Romero (172 lbs), Blanca Elena Torres (114.6 lbs) and Lutmary García (138.9 lbs) defected during their stay in France.
Mijaín López decided not to compete in the Pan American Games, recognizing that his preparation was not as successful as he would have wanted, and “he had to lose a lot of weight”
Faced with the escape of the judokas, Idalys Ortiz, age 34 and one step away from retirement, is the central figure to obtain a medal. “It won’t be easy, but the challenges are really those that make human beings great,” the four-time Olympic medalist told AFP.
The list of absences also includes the two-time world taekwondo champion Rafael Alba (injured) and the Olympic long jump bronze medal winner Maykel Massó (recently had surgery).
Other notable casualties are those of the Olympic champion and two-time world wrestling champion Ismael Borrero, who escaped in Mexico; Juan Miguel Echavarría, who is in Portugal; the Olympic medalist and world discus champion, Yaimé Pérez, who in July last year abandoned her team in the United States; the first Olympic medalist in kayaking, Fernando Dayán, who defected in Mexico in March 2022; Serguei Torres (kayaking), and Manrique Larduet (gymnastics).
Translated by Regina Anavy
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