Training is intense at the School for High Performance Athletes. Photo: Miguel Manuel Lazo

It is said that it was April 1955 when, in the then Korea, the name “taekwondo” was proposed for the martial art form characterized by a wide range of kicking techniques. The first official event of this discipline was held on October 9, 1963, at the nation’s 44th National Athletic Meets.

It wasn’t until August 1986 that the first steps in this martial art were taken in Cuba. At that time, the approval and support provided by the Cuban Federation of Karate-do, directed by José Ramón Balaguer, was fundamental.

Thanks to an invitation extended to the country, Cuban taekwondokas appeared at the 1987 Indianapolis Pan American Games, where the sport was first included.

Since taekwondo was incorporated into multiple events, it has been one of the sports in which Cuban delegations have secured the most medals. Since Indianapolis 1987, Cuba has won 41 Pan American medals in this sport, including 16 gold, 10 silver, and 15 bronze, only surpassed by Mexico (17-10-14).

At the Olympics, Cuban taekwondokas have reaped a total of five medals (1 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze), occupying eleventh place on the all-time medal table of this sport, included in the Games since Sydney 2000. Since then, Cuba has only failed to win a medal at the Río de Janeiro 2016 Games.


Cuba’s progress in world championships has been seen in solid results over several editions. The country currently ranks 14th among the more than 65 countries that have achieved at least one medal in these events. The 21st World Taekwondo Championships, held in Puebla, Mexico, July 14 – 21, 2013, deserves special mention.

There, Cuban athletes finished in second place overall, with five medals (2-0-3). Glenhis Hernández and Rafael Alba were champions, while Robelis Despaigne, Yania Aguirre and Yamisel Núñez won bronze. Only South Korea (6-3-1) finished above the Caribbean nation on Mexican soil.


This will be a year full of challenges for this martial art in Cuba, due to the fact that it is being called on to provide several gold medals at the Lima Pan American Games.

Given this challenge, José Ángel Cobas (80kg) and Rafael Alba (+80kg) are set to compete in the Manchester World Championships, in Britain, May 15 -19, two figures with Olympic medal prospects in Tokyo 2020.

To learn details of how preparations are going, Granma headed to the Giraldo Córdova Cardín National Training School for High Performance Athletes, in Habana del Este.

“We are training for the Pan American qualifier, which will take place in the Dominican Republic in March. We will participate with our top athletes, in order to earn points that guarantee us a good position in the Lima program,” stated Pedro Caraballo Elizalde, head coach of the men’s team.

“We will be objective when making forecasts, since we are promoting four divisions for the Pan American and the World Championships. We are investing the resources we have in those athletes who can bring back medals,” he added.

“We have adjusted the training with a view toward the constant changes in the competitive regulations. Fights now take place in an octagon, with a strip of 15 centimeters that delimits the valid area of the matt, but we still don’t know what variations will be adopted in the refereeing. We expect to obtain two gold medals with the men, and two gold, one silver, and one bronze with the women’s team at the Pan American Games,” he noted.


“I’m training to secure a medal for my country. We have not yet met with top level international athletes, so it’s difficult to have an accurate forecast for the tournament, but we are working hard to win the gold medals we are going to the Pan American Games for,” stated 2013 World Champion Glenhis Hernández.

Another athlete who paused his training to talk to us was Toronto 2015 Pan American Champion, José Ángel Cobas. “I recently returned after an injury, so I want to thank the medical team that helped in my recovery. I’m focused on training since the coaches and the Cuban people expect a good performance from us in Lima. Although it’s a difficult goal, I know I can achieve it.”

“The training is intense, and we are on track to have the right material conditions, since the flooring where we train is being repaired. We are expecting new protective equipment and electronic breastplates, since the lack of this equipment has hit us, as we are a sport that does not compete in the same way as it trains: we compete with electronic technology and train with the traditional equipment,” he explained.

Cobas praised the refurbishment process underway at that the Giraldo Córdova Cardín Training School for High Performance Athletes. “We are very grateful, because the living conditions at the school have improved a lot; we have access to the internet, the food is excellent, and we are three to four compañeros per room, with air conditioning and other amenities,” he noted with visible satisfaction.

Combat sports are set to play a very important role in fulfilling the main sporting objective in 2019 (to better the performance of Toronto 2015), always offering a series of gold medals for the Cuban sports movement.