Athletics must take a leap forwards and remain the top discipline for Cuba at the regional level. Photo: Ricardo López Hevia

The 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia, are drawing close. Little time remains before the great regional multi-sport event begins, in which Cuba aspires to maintain its predominance, established each time it has participated since 1970.

This was reiterated by José Antonio Miranda, National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) head of High Performance Sports, who believes that the goal is ambitious and complicated, in the midst of the demanding regional competitive scenario, with several countries increasingly strengthened and better prepared to compete.

“The fight will, perhaps, be tougher than in Veracruz four years ago, because as well as Mexico, our historic rival, Colombia is also determined to place among the top three on the medal table. They hope to secure more than a hundred titles, a figure that up to three countries have the possibility of surpassing.

“This only happened before in Mayagüez, without the presence of Cuba, eight years ago,” Miranda told Granma International.

He acknowledged that while the Cuban athletes’ training is going well, there can not be, as in previous editions, such a big difference in the medal table compared to other countries. “Considering the increase in the number of events from 432 in Veracruz to 470 now, we foresee that the gap will be smaller among the top nations, as we won’t participate in 93 of these competitions, and of them Colombia should win more than 35 and Mexico more than 25.”

This situation will force Cuba to ensure top performances, especially in its traditionally strong disciplines. “We need 65% effectiveness in the finals we dispute so as not to complicate the mission. In particular, wrestling, boxing, taekwondo, canoeing, rowing, and artistic gymnastics, are going to be crucial, while athletics must make the greatest contribution, as has happened throughout our history,” Miranda stressed.

Logically, for several months there has been strict control over training in these sports. “Due to the potential titles that can be secured, these disciplines have priority in terms of financing, training conditions, and competitive plans. However, all medals count and a lot of attention is also paid to training in the rest of the events.”

Regarding the Barranquilla competition program, Miranda explained that it is very similar to that of the Veracruz edition, with little Cuban presence in the first events. “It is likely that we will finish the seven initial days far off the target, because we will only have the possibility of winning medals in ten of the 18 events that will be held. That’s how the calendar is set out, designed for Colombia and Mexico to make an impact and take the lead.

“With this in mind, we are working on the basis that there are no motivational gaps, which will eventually take their toll on the materialization of our objective. Psychological preparation will be fundamental, and we hope that the difference will be reduced in the second, decisive stage,” added the head of High Performance Sports, who also noted that the Central American Games are a crucial link in the Olympic cycle.

“Barranquilla will be the starting point in our effort to recover positions in the continental area, and to maintain ourselves as an Olympic power.

“We don't expect the results of Toronto to be repeated at the Pan-American Games in Lima. Firstly because Peru, as the host, will not manage to place among the top countries, and Canada will not have the same support as when they were organizers.

“In addition, we have 129 potential athletes of great talent who come with excellent results and training, who are expected to play a decisive role in achieving our aspirations. Finally, with a view to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we have also identified 29 world-class athletes who, with the right assistance, can contribute to Cuba remaining among the best of the summer event.”