Cuba is on the threshold of participating in its twentieth Olympic Games and the upcoming adventure in Río de Janeiro promises emotional moments for the island’s athletes, with the possibility of achieving historic results under the five rings.
Mijaín López, Idalis Ortiz, Ángel Fournier, Manrique Larduet and Rafael Alba are some of the Cuban stars most likely to set records in the Brazilian city, where once again Cuba’s sports movement will rub shoulders with some of the strongest athletes of the world.
Cuba’s flagship event over multiple editions of the Games – boxing – will play a leading role, with a strong group of talented fighters. The aim is to add to the historic total of 34 gold, 19 silver and 14 bronze medals (67 in all). Cuba’s overall medal count in this individual sport exceeds that of nations such as Greece, Kenya, Brazil, South Africa, Argentina and Mexico.
In over a century of Olympic history, only three Cubans in individual events have achieved the feat of securing three gold medals, while seven volleyball players have joined them. Aiming for his third gold in Río de Janeiro is stellar wrestler Mijaín López.
López, from Pinar del Río, has racked up a total of eight world medals since 2005, including five gold. In Brazil he will seek to get even with Turkey’s Rıza Kayaalp, who provided him with his last defeat, and mount the podium for the third time, putting him on a par with Ramón Fonst, Teófilo Stevenson and Félix Savón, as well as the seven players on the island’s most successful women’s volleyball team, taking gold from Barcelona 1992 to Sydney 2000.
Ramón Fonst secured his first gold medal in Paris 1900, aged just 16, followed by two more in St. Louis 1904, in the individual Foil and Épée events. Teófilo Stevenson was the indisputable champion of the ring from Munich 1972 to Moscow 1980. In 1986, he won his third gold medal. Expectations were set for a fourth Olympic gold in Los Angeles 1984, but Cuba did not participate in that edition of the Games, while during the 1990s, Félix Savón took seven titles in world tournaments and World Cups. He was gold medalist from Barcelona 1992 to Sydney 2000.
This year, Ángel Fournier will attempt to be the first Cuban rower to secure a medal at the Olympic Games, as in 13 appearances - 11 of them consecutive – the island has been unable to achieve this feat. This is the athlete from Guantánamo’s third time competing under the five rings, having established himself as part of the world elite in the single sculls event, competing against stars such as Czech Ondrej Synek (four-times World Champion) and New Zealander Mahé Drysdale (five-times World Champion and London 2012 Olympic gold).
Taekwondo, alongside baseball, is the only sport in which Cuba has obtained Olympic medals in every edition in which it has participated. The debut in this martial art came in Sydney 2000 with gold for Ángel Volodia Matos and silver for Urbia Meléndez. They were followed by Yanely Labrada (silver), Daynellis Montejo (bronze) and Robelis Despaigne (bronze) in Athens, Beijing and London, in that order. This time, the island’s only hopes lie with Rafael Alba, whose goal is to keep the sport on the podium.
Idaliz Ortiz is looking to become the first Cuban judoka to win two Olympic titles which would place her just one medal behind Driulis González, with a total of four. González, from Guantánamo took gold in Atlanta 1996, silver in Sydney 2000 and bronze medals in Barcelona 1992 and Athens 2004.
While Ortiz won bronze in Beijing 2008, at just 18 years of age, before taking the gold medal in London 2012.
The island’s women’s judo team will seek to maintain their perfect Olympic record, having won medals at all editions of the Games since their debut in Barcelona 1992.
It is a huge challenge, but gymnast Manrique Larduet could become the first Cuban multi-medalist in a single edition of the Olympic Games since fencer Elvis Gregory achieved such a feat in Barcelona 1992. Gregory was preceded by Ramón Fonst, Silvia Chivás and Alberto Juantorena, who each won two medals in a single Summer Games.
Manrique is also seeking Cuba’s first Cuban gymnastics medal, with prospects for gold.
Cuba has won 50 Olympic titles from Barcelona 1992 to London 2012, but only one sport has remained at the top of the podium in each of these six summer Games: wrestling, but since 1964, Cuba has always won at least one Olympic medal in athletics, with the most consecutive appearances on the podium of all disciplines.
In the past 40 years (eight summer events), the track and field delegation has not seen two consecutive Games without climbing to the top of the podium. After losing out on gold in London 2012, where Yarisley Silva and Leonel Suárez secured silver and bronze, respectively, it remains to be seen whether Río will see a return to the top.