San Cristobal, Táchira— Just like thousands of other Cuban sports collaborators, who promote healthy physical recreation in communities across Venezuela, there is a select group of trainers and specialists confirming Cuba’s dream of high performance sports outside of the market system.
Conceived as part of the Homeland Plan, established by former President Hugo Chávez, the Marshall Antonio José de Sucre Bolivarian Educational Center for Talented Athletes was created in this Andean city, which, in just three years, has trained dozens of young champions.
The center, with 40 top Cuban coaches on staff, is distinguished by the fact that the goal here is not only to produce gold-medal athletes who perform at the level of their talent, but also well-rounded men and women with strong human values, despite being obliged to mature early given the rigors of training.
“Of course, athletic results are the priority, and we have exceeded expectations with tens of medals won, in the school’s short existence,” explains Juan Álvarez Hernández, Cuban advisor to the school’s director.
“There is no national or regional tournament, in any of the eight disciplines we train, in which one of our students is not competing, and highly unlikely that we return from such a competition without a champion and several medals.”
The center brings together talented prospects in both the school and juvenile categories, in the disciplines of athletics, boxing, cycling, judo, freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, taekwondo and weight-lifting, and although their competitive goals are focused on the national championships, students also participate in Cuba’s School Games and other continental events, to test their growth and athletic development.
In every corner of the Tachira campus, the influence of Cuban personnel is tangible, and the revolutionary concept of training athletes in two fundamental aspects predominates: high level performance, and the development of values along with talent, through discipline, teamwork, attention to academics, and ethical personal behavior.
“On a par with the number of medals won in such a short time, in and outside of Venezuela, what has been positive in the experience is the development of athletes with a different behavior: the complete athletes Comandante Chávez dreamed of and called for, worthy representatives of what he called the Generation of Gold,” Álvarez emphasized.
“As you walk through the halls, visit the residences, the gyms, you will not see pretentious behavior among students. They spend a great deal of time with their teachers and, therefore, become a reflection of them.”
A disciple of one of the most prestigious Cuban schools of boxing, Rafael Ramírez Elías, from the province of Guantánamo, is now repeating the lessons he shared as a high performance coach in Pakistan, for six years, and two in Sri Lanka.
He is using all the experience he gained as a participant in International Amateur Boxing Association events to support future Venezuelan champions, and feels that regardless of students’ innate ability, their basic talent is enough to make miracles with the tools of Cuban boxing.
“The recruitment of talented students is not part of our work, and this is a weak point. Also, we are distant from the country’s principal competitive centers, and parents do not always want their sons to come this far away. Nor do other states easily give up those brilliant young men, in whom they see a sure champion, and probably a source of money in the future, thinking about the professional boxing market,” Rafael said.
“This is one of the school’s merits: Those in second place, the third-best, come here, and we turn them into the first. We are sure that those who will shine in future Olympics, Pan Americans, and all the big-name tournaments in Venezuela, are here, and the substitutes for the Caribes (national team), currently competing in the World Series, also led by Cuban colleagues,” he points out with pride.
The same enthusiasm is evident when speaking with Héctor Luis Sainz, also from Guantánamo, an experienced cycling coach who has led both male and female national teams in the 14-15 years of age category.
Hector describes the quick turn-around he observed in students after his arrival, fresh from the Cuban National Cycling Technical Center, located in his native province.
He speaks of dozens of medals, both in national competitions and at the Cuban School Games, to which he took his Venezuelan pupils. His voice softens when he refers to the affection they show him, “They consider me a strong father, and at the same time, understanding, because in addition to being very demanding in training, I also know how to listen, understand the problems and conflicts of their age.”
With obvious devotion, teenage champion Nazareth Gutiérrez , declares “The first year with him, I won a bronze, and the next, three gold medals and two bronze. Of course it’s because of his lessons, and his patience with me, putting up with my childish manners. From him, I learned that perseverance and discipline produce good results, and thanks to his dedication to me, I maintain my aspirations to be great, and travel to many countries.”
THE ATHLETE & THE HUMAN BEING
In the judo gym, there is but one voice which rises above the dull sound of bodies hitting the mats. In every face, be it that of a trainer or a student, there is a martial seriousness which speaks for the disciplined air reigning, as the practice session is held.
Only at the end, does some relaxation appear, but never going beyond the sport’s code of order, respect and camaraderie.
“It is a sport which in its original principles promotes maximum discipline, and this is vital to the training of complete athletes, to their performance, as well as their ethics and behavior,” explains head judo coach Santiago Rodríguez Morozo, from Holguín. Just like Rafael in boxing, in a short period of time, he has helped students, who were not among the country’s leading prospects, become medal-winners.
A natural teacher, he emphasizes the Cuban concept of well-rounded athletic development, and has his own team as his best example, saying, “The educational work we undertake allows the judokas, both male and female, to have the school’s best academic grades, and thus far, no one has been obliged to leave the school for poor athletic performance or undisciplined behavior.”
Santiago also emphasizes the crucial support of doctors, therapists and psychologists, “a trio present at every training session, our principal aides in developing team strategies and individual work for the athlete.”
This is another way Cuban sports touches Venezuela, solidarity and cooperation in high level competition, early attention to talented young athletes, and the training of future champions.
This school’s goals are not impacted by the market. Only the humanist principles of two revolutions, which since their beginnings have considered access to sports a right, and vital to the growth of their peoples.