Summarizing a year of Cuban sport, even under unique circumstances and the pandemic is always very complicated. Especially if we talk about the Olympic year, where Cuba, despite facing difficulties of various kinds and having to make multiple adjustments to their training and competitive programs, rendered its best performance since the 2004 Athens when they compiled (9 gold, 7 silver, and 11 bronze medals).
Now, in Tokyo, the record was 7 gold medals, three silver, and five bronze medals, attaining the 14th place in the ranking by country, and after both Beijing 2008, and Rio de Janeiro 2016 they have not been able to exceed five medals. In terms of medals, there were 15 medals this time, equaling the total of London, and exceeding the 11 of the Marvelous City five years ago.
A rough cycle, where, in addition to the extended period of time, the poor chances to compete, not only of our main sportsmen, but also of those under them, appealing to strategies of improvement and domestic competitive modeling, in sports where Cuba always has kept a good tradition, and the drive of sportsmen following the number one figures is considerable, paid off. On top of this is worth adding preparatory schemes in bubble format, given the presence and evident scourge of the Coronavirus. Let’s just mention the impact it took on our national judo teams when they were in the middle of a European tour.
By the way, it was the combat sports that once again boosted Cuba’s performance in the Olympic Games, with six of the seven gold medals, one silver and three bronze medals of the total of metals reached. Boxing (4-0-1) and wrestling (2-0-1) led the way where judo also did its bit (0-1-0) and Taekwondo (0-0-1).
Under this view, and with other variables associated with performance to look upon, it’s necessary to analyze, due to their prominence, combat sports:
The so-called spearhead of Cuban sport again dressed in the stripes of our flag in 2021. The weight of the best individual discipline well justified once again, because to the title by countries in the Olympic boxing competition, we must add the fact of reconquering the crown by nations in the World Cup of the specialty in Belgrade, where with three gold medals and two bronzes they beat Kazakhstan (2-2-1) and the United States (2-2-0) in a resurrection.
On top of this we must add the second place in the I Junior Pan American Games of Cali, where with four gold medals, one silver, and one bronze they fell just before the North Americans (five gold medals), of which three of their women, modality in which Cuba has not yet started its official practice in the domestic field. Something for which we have advocated more than once, without implying the empowering of women, as it happened with weightlifting and women's wrestling, their predecessors in matters of initiation.
Another element of great impact for our boxing school to keep leading the way in high competition both in the elite category and among youth is the fact of continuity in the development process of our boxers and their transition through the so-called sports pyramid, since this is practically the only discipline that has, in addition to the High Performance Center known as "La Finca", where athletes with an immediate prospect are shaped and trained.
It’s still the sport of locks, tackles, and throws within our movement. To the quasi-supernatural Mijaín López with his four gold medals in a row in the Olympic Games in the super complete division, leaving his scoreboard blank once again, and at 39 years old proving that he is one of the most feared wrestlers in history; Luis Alberto Orta (60 kg) joined this time as giant killers.
He had, unequivocally, one of the bloodiest competition charts that Tokyo witnessed, and little by little he dodged each of its much more hardened obstacles to win and get a gold medal in the ground of unprecedented, like that of Leuris Pupo in the fast pistol in London 2012. Orta throws his opponent and became Olympic champion!!!!
The same as in the masterclass of wits, unsurpassed dose of sporting mastery, we need to grant the bronze medal to free-style wrestler Reineri Salas (97 kg), with an injured ankle, with a surgical precision to launch his attacks and win the points, with the resources accumulated over the years to defend his legs and anatomy from the attacks of opponents.
Wrestling kept its trail of gold medals won uninterruptedly since Barcelona 1992; the Greco-Roman style leads the way in this regard. Thanks to the classics, to Raúl Trujillo, Julio Mendieta, and the rest of the technical staff, for their wisdom; thanks to Filiberto Delgado, for having been able to insert three women for the first time in that exclusive panorama ...
And thank you for having such excellent replacement, to the point that in Cali they reigned easily, supported by a (9-3-3), comfortably above the United States (4-2-6) and the hosts (2-1-4), our closest pursuers.
Here we speak of the fact that it’s not exclusively a matter of keeping continental hegemony, to which is added the fact of classifying the nine gold weight categories to the Pan American Games in Santiago de Chile 2023, but of modeling other variables related to the performance of our new wrestlers.
For example: six of our athletes came from the Sports Initiation Schools, that is, the rising of wrestling in lower categories, and who were able to contribute with three medals, two silver and one bronze.
Therefore, the fact of rescuing the National Sports Schools also in this sport becomes paramount, where individualized systems and personalization of sport loads according to age, physical development and other variables, become extremely important.
The girl from Artemisa municipality, Idalys Ortiz is the key exponent of this sport, capable of winning fourth medals in Olympic Games and second subtitle in the + 78kg. We must also ponder this time the way in which Kaliema Antomarchi (78) competed, who was close to wing a bronze medal.
This is one of the sports with the greatest stability in Cuba, in addition to the fact that this time the podium dividends were not totally gratifying.
However, the performance of our youth in Colombia, where with (2-2-3) they tied with United States in the second place and behind Brazil (6-1-4), shows a steady and solid job since early categories.
Judo must not lose the international scenarios it has won through performance, but also here at home it must promote that much-needed continuity from lower categories, in order to achieve even combat systems, without big gaps, not even in Newaza nor Tachi-Waza; so that the followers grow stronger.
Rafael Alba, although he has two world championships in the top division of taekwondo (+ 80kg), in the Olympic Games he hasn’t had the same luck. In fact, after his defeat in Tokyo against the North Macedonian fighter, I even thought that he could not make it to the awards podium.
However, the man from Santiago de Cuba shook off that mistake to keep on the route and access the desired metal through repechage, betting all on the reach of his legs and speed when kicking, despite precisely the length of his legs that could be seen at some point as the enemy of that explosiveness.
This was a discipline that had its qualifying system, like judo, by ranking, which, given the almost zero participation of our team in important matches, prevented other representatives like José Ángel Cobas (80kg), and Yamitsi Carbonell (+67), win their ticket to Tokyo.
In Cali, our fighters could not win either, since they did not win any medal among the 16 nations that could achieve it. The work must be accentuated, beyond the real limitations of infrastructure and existing competitive scarcity, and others of a psychological nature that to some extent come from that almost zero margin of competition.
Combat sports continue to place Cuba in the first levels. Regardless of the qualitative context. Year 2021 was no exception and at the climax of Tokyo they played an important role.
Expect other deliveries of CubaSí, to take a last look at Cuban sport in this late 2021, and that the reflections serve as a starting point to continue the work in 2022, looking at Paris 2024.
Translated by Amilkal Labañino / CubaSí Translation Staff