In the Midst of the ‘Desertion’ Crisis, Cuba Aspires to 70 Gold Medals in the El Salvador Games

Cuba busca llevarse 70 medallas de oro, afirmó José Antonio Miranda en una conferencia de prensa celebrada en el hotel Crowne Plaza. (JIT)
Cuba seeks to win 70 gold medals, stated José Antonio Miranda at a press conference held at the Crowne Plaza hotel. (HIT)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 June 2023 — Despite the unstoppable exodus of Cuban athletes at foreign events, the sports authorities have great ambitions for the next Central American and Caribbean Games, which will be inaugurated next Friday in El Salvador. The Island will compete with 503 athletes in 32 sports disciplines and calculates that it has a chance to get second place in the competition, after Mexico.

According to the Salvadoran newspaper El Mundo, Cuba is one of the big favorites of the competition. The statements of José Antonio Miranda, the official to whom the National Institute of Sports (INDER) assigned the leadership of the delegation that traveled to San Salvador, are equally optimistic: Cuba seeks to take 70 gold medals, he said at a press conference held at the Salvadoran Crowne Plaza hotel.

To achieve the mark, Miranda affirms that the Island — “a world power” when it comes to sports — has an arsenal of athletes who, in total, have won 84 world titles, 69 silver medals and 82 bronze medals. The manager does not resist the temptation to compare his own medal table, with 235 medals obtained in the region: “After the United States, Cuba has won the most medals in the history of the area.”

At the head of the delegation are the judoka Idalis Ortiz, two-time world champion, who won several medals at the Olympic games in London, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, and the boxer Julio César La Cruz, winner, also on two occasions, of the Olympic belt, and five times of the World Cup.

Supporting these already historic athletes is a large number of athletes whose average age, Miranda said, is 23 years old. The official regretted that the Island saw its chances of winning more honors reduced due to the cancellation of several disciplines, such as women’s water polo, in which the Cuban delegation planned to stand out with 13 athletes.

About 380 members of the Cuban group — 75% — have experience in previous international events, while 123 make their debut in this competition. Miranda guaranteed that everyone had received excellent preparation to achieve “maximum performance” and that the contest will be the opportunity to “evaluate” the participation of a group of athletes in the 2024 Olympic Games, to be held in Paris.

Cuba’s strengths continue to be combat sports — boxing, wrestling, judo and fencing — but it has excellent possibilities in chess, canoeing, athletics, men’s volleyball, water polo and handball, and field hockey in both sexes.

On this last sport, Miranda avoided alluding to the escape of several of the members of the women’s and men’s delegations. In the case of the first team, three of its players managed to escape during the team’s training in Spain and now live as refugees in that country. Interviewed by this newspaper, they denounced the terrible living conditions to which they were subjected in their hostels on the Island.

Nor will the table-tennis player Thalia de Armas return to Cuba after her agreement with Club Jerez in Spain, where she traveled last May. According to sources of sports journalist Francys Romero, the habanera will seek to continue her career in Europe.

The decision, Romero said, is a break with INDER, which  managed the contract with Spain. Cases such as De Armas are, along with the abandonment of official delegations, increasingly frequent. Despite the difficulty of restarting her career in another country, the tennis player has something in her favor, says the journalist: her youth.

Thalia de Armas jugó 15 partidos con el Club Jerez y sólo perdió tres encuentros. (Facebook/Thalia de Armas)
Thalia de Armas played 15 games with Club Jerez and only lost three games. (Facebook/Thalia de Armas)

According to the statistics of the 2022-2023 season, in 15 games with Club Jerez, De Armas won 12 games and lost the remaining three, with a productivity rate of 80%.

Between May and so far in June, six Cuban athletes have used Spain as an escape door. Last Sunday, sports-shooting athlete Mitchell Onel Orellana left his team during training in Granada, where he was preparing for the Central American and Caribbean Games in San Salvador 2023. According to the official media Jit, this discipline faces numerous difficulties in achieving a successful training, due to the ” lack of bullets and electronic systems” of counting.

Orellana’s desertion was almost on a par with that of handball players Arisleydi Márquez, Yudisaday Rodríguez, Melisa Arias and Geidy Maceo, who took advantage of their stay in another European country, France, to escape.

Several weeks earlier, the discus thrower Denia Caballero left the Cuban team after winning the silver medal at the Meeting Diputación de Castellón (Spain) with a throw of 63.17 meters. According to Romero, since the beginning of this year the Cuban Athletics Federation “hindered” the athlete’s negotiations with Portugal, “breaching the management agreement with a club” and motivating her dissatisfaction.

Another Olympic medalist and world record champion, Yaimé Pérez, deserted after the Island’s sporting failure at the XVIII World Athletics Championship held in Eugene, Oregon.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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