SANTIAGO DE CUBA.— Talking to Filiberto Azcuy is like receiving a lesson on the current state of Greco-Roman wrestling in Cuba. Always frank, direct, and unafraid to share his thoughts on the sport to which this double Olympic Champion and head coach of the Cuban national team has dedicated the greater part of his life.
How would you describe the state of Greco-Roman wrestling in the recently concluded National Championship (January 20-29)?
Cuban wrestling is in very good health. The majority of participants in this national championship are quite young, so we have a group of quality fighters. The event took place without many errors by the referees; I think that the judges also deserve recognition.
You are responsible for coaching the 98kg division of the national team. What kind of shape is Olympic silver medalist Yasmani Lugo in?
Yasmani is our most outstanding wrestler, although we have a good base of fighters on the team. He’s been struggling with an injury since the Grand Prix in Spain (June 2016), but even so he competed in the Río Olympic Games. Nonetheless, the medical team thinks that he should have recovered by the Granma-Cerro Pelado tournament (Camagüey, February 17-23).
Do the changes made to the Greco-Roman wrestling rules which make it easier to score from the standing position, benefit Yasmani Lugo?
They were perfect, and now he has one or two opportunities to win the World Championships, and could be in with a chance for the gold in Tokyo 2020.
Going back to the National Championships. Of all the wrestlers you’ve seen, who has surprised you the most?
Several fighters performed well in the 59kg category, but silver medalist Janier Almenares, from Santiago de Cuba, caught my eye. He wasn’t a member of the national team although he was often invited to train with us at the Cerro Pelado sports complex. Now he’s part of our team. I was pleased with Héctor Hernández’s performance in the 80kg; I identified at least three quality fighters in every division. We don't have enough space to include them all in the national training team. An issue that could be resolved if we had a National School for Athletic Development.