Pan American games: Cuba Will Have to Perform at its Best / Iván García

Photo: Reuters. The Cuban delegation during the inaugural parade of the Pan American Games 2011.

It’s almost a siege. Never before, since Cali 1971, when Cuba took second place by assault in the continent’s multi-sport games, moving Canada to third place, did the green caimán feel the breath of its opponents so close.

Then in Rio 2007, Brazil sent Cuba into water up to its neck. With a final push of athletics and combat sports, they made a killing in the shooting event in the land of samba and soccer. In a duel of power to power, Cuba won 59 gold medals to Brazil’s 54.

Now joining the effort are Canada and Mexico, the home of the Sixteenth Pan American Games, from October 14-30, in Guadalajara, with the participation of 5,996 athletes from 42 countries, including 442 Cubans. But Brazil feels it’s now time to take out the U.S., always the champion.

Brazil is very serious about sports. Today, Cuba excels in all team sports, except baseball. Even in combat events and athletics, which Cuba often sweeps, Brazil now is a rival to watch out for.

In the last world-wide judo contest, Brazil won more medals than Cuba. If their best male and female athletes go to Guadalajara, Cuba will have a hard time dominating the martial art.

Now boxing is not the flagship of yesteryear. Forget about winning nine or ten gold medals in the engagements of America. After a legion of fighters switched sides, they decided to sign as professionals, and the Cuban boxers have ceded territory.

It’s true that in the last World Cup held in Bakú, Cuba ranked second, with two gold medals and one silver. But Brazil made ​​history with the gold obtained by the light welterweight Everton dos Santos, and the bronze of Esquiva Falcâo in the division of at least 75 kilos.

And it’s likely that Everton and Dodge will compete in Guadalajara. Moreover, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, Dominica and the United States have some individuals who might take away the gold medals from Cuban boxing.

To secure second place in these Pan American Games, Cuba is confident that the wrestlers will sweep in freestyle and Greco-Roman. And take between nine and eleven titles in athletics. The United States will get third and fourth, giving options to the island’s athletes.

Jamaica, a potential number one in sprinting, will compete with runners of low rank. But we know that number ten of the Jamaican team wins at short-distance runs.

If the United States doesn’t keep a commitment to swimming and uses kids who aren’t very fast, then there will be a golden opportunity for Brazil to take some medals out of the pool.

Mexico can also outstep Cuba in different disciplines. Like Venezuela, Argentina or Canada, who are not made of stone. Brazil ought to impose itself in several group sports.

In volleyball, either beach or court, and between women and men, the yellow-greens should sweep up. If Cuba can achieve a good result in cycling and boating, it will have more options to stay in second place. Anyway, with countries winning even second place, the number of gold medals for Cuba should not exceed 50.

Look, among the 361 sports events that award medals, Cuba withdrew from participating in 111. Among others, Cuba will not compete in wrestling, football and women’s weightlifting.

In swimming, the Creole presence will be symbolic. The task of the Indian will have to do with combat sports and athletics, with its best exponents participating, say Olympic champions Dayron Robles or Yargelis Savigne, valued in the triple jump, Yarelis Barrios in discus, Yipsi Moreno in hammer-throwing, the decathlete Leonel Suárez and the phenomenon of the pole-vault, Lázaro Borges.

Taking account, it’s likely that Cuba can beat Brazil by taking two or three medals. But surely the Brazilians will be close behind. Suffice it to say that after four years, the colossus of the South must displace the Greater Antilles in the continental games.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to sleep soundly. It is the most powerful nation in the sport of the Americas. Although it has had its scares: in 1951 Argentina ranked first in the Pan American Games held in Havana in 1991, Cuba relegated them to second place.

But it has rained enough. And Cuba has lost many points in athletics. For various reasons, from the systemic economic crisis that has ravaged the island for 21 years to the incessant defections of athletes.

Mexico will be a red dot on the lens of Cuban athletes. The United States is on the other side of the gate. And that will always be a temptation for those athletes who dream of competing as professionals and earning high salaries.

Of course, Mexico is burning. There have been 44,000 deaths in the last five years. A wave of violence that changes these Pan American Games into a high-risk event.

To neutralize any threat, Felipe Calderón placed 11,000 specialized policemen, manned airplanes and Blackhawk helicopters to clear the zone of ​​the feared gunmen of the Sinaloa cartel and the paramilitary bands in the style of the Zetas.

The Mexican authorities have declared they have not detected any suspicious activity and security is guaranteed 100 percent in Guadalajara 2011. But in sports, the threat to Cuba is called Brazil.

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Translated by Regina Anavy

25 October 2011