By Ronal Quinones
HAVANA TIMES — Due to the lack of a better performance by Cuban boxers, who up until now haven’t won what we hoped they would, Greco-Roman wrestling has stood out for Cuba at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, bringing home two gold medals and one silver.
Even though it was expected, it didn’t make the Cuban champion Mijain Lopez’s win any less spectacular, as the way in which he beat the Turkish wrestler, Riza Kayaalp, in the final was simply electrifying. Lopez wanted to fight Kayaalp for the title, and expectations were running high in Cuba to see its flag waving in the face of the only wrestler who has beat him in this decade. However, in a matter of seconds, the Caribbean wrestler threw the European to the ground, thereby winning his third title in summer games.
The other gold medal went to Ismael Borrero, who arrived in Rio with the title of world champion; however, there were still doubts before the Olympics because he hadn’t yet stood out on the international circuit. Nevertheless, he cast all those doubts aside and rose above his rivals easily, until he won the final with technical superiority, just like he’d done at the world championship last year, although he faced a different opponent on that occasion.
Yasmany Lugo was our great surprise in Greco-Roman wrestling, winning the silver medal in the 98 kilogram category. The wrestler from Pinar del Rio didn’t do anything flashy on the throw mats, but he won his fights and was only brought to a halt in the final by the favorite of his category: the Armenian, Artur Alexanian, two time gold medal winner and bronze winner in London, four years ago. Undoubtedly, this has been the greatest achievement for Lugo in his career, in which he holds the youth world title as well as medals in Central American and Panamerican Games, but no prize before of this caliber.
Thus, Cuban wrestling continues to hold the tradition of winning at least one gold medal at the Olympics, a run which began in Barcelona, in 1992, the only Cuban sport to boast this occurrence.
Meanwhile, boxing continues to win medals, but up until this moment, none of them have been gold. Bronze-winner Johannys Argilagos (49 kilograms) has been joined by Lazaro Alvarez (60) and Erislandy Savon (91), who have already been eliminated, and finalist Julio Cesar La Cruz (81) and semifinalists Robeisy Ramirez (56) and Arlen Lopez (75) could go further, while Yobany Veitia (52) still remains in the competition.
Discus thrower Denia Caballero also won a bronze medal, who in spite of a last minute injury was able to climb up onto the podium of her specialty, although it was already well known that it would be very difficult to beat the exceptional Croatian Sandra Perkovic.
The Cuban beach volleyball duo played a thrilling match against their Russian equivalent, however, they lost in three sets (all of them in extra time) and they ended up finishing far from the podium despite their great performance.
Cuban shooter Leurys Pupo, gold medal winner in London, also ended up in a praiseworthy fifth place, his best result in an international event in the last four years, while gymnast Manrique Larduet couldn’t repeat what happened at the last World Championships as he was suffering from an injury to his ankle which doctors had kept under wraps the whole time, until it was clear to see.
Rower Angel Fournier’s performance was disappointing, who after having done very well in the preliminary trials, ended up in the next to last spot, far from the medal winners on the podium. Cyclist Lisandra Guerra didn’t give her best performance either; she was quickly eliminated from the trials she took part in. In this last sport, Marlies Mejias was also unable to win a medal, however, she finished in 7th place in the Omnium race which deserves to be recognized.
The performances from boxers Lazaro Alvarez and Leinier Pero (over 90 kg) were also far from promising, in spite of not a lot being expected from the latter. Alvarez, almost perfect during the last four years, didn’t attack much against Brazilian native Robson Conceicao who ended up winning the gold. The Cuban complained about being done wrong by the referees, but the truth is he wasn’t very consistent in the ring, and that’s disastrous when you’re up against the host country’s representative.
Pero did worse, knocked out by the Croatian Filip Hrgovic, an opponent who has quite a few more kilos than him, which means our debt in the superweight category still exists.
Over the next few days, what the remaining four boxers win will be vital, not only for Cuba’s general position in the medal table but for its own reputation, as they were aiming for three medals at least. These four boxers could win them, but there’s no margin for error.
Our great hopes for Cuban athletics included triple jumper Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who had to withraw due to an injury, pole vaulter Yarisley Silva, who didn’t do very well in the qualifier. Since in the final you start from zero again, Silva will have the opportunity to improve her score and can aim to stand on the podium.
Furthermore, freestyle wrestling will now take place, where there are a lot of hopes running on the backs of the five Cuban representatives in this sport, because even though Alejandro Valdes (65) is the only one out of them to not have won a medal in the World Championships this year, he’s in very good shape and could also surprise us. Nevertheless, thinking about gold, the only one to really have a chance of winning it, not just because of his skill but also taking the opponents in his category into account, is Yowlys Bonne (57). It all depends on whether he’s able to apply an appropriate plan of attack for each fight.
Finally, there’s taekwondo competitor Rafael Alba, who was the king of the world in 2013, however, he wasn’t able to repeat this in 2015. In any case, he’s a serious candidate for gold, or at least one of the medals.
The stage is hot for the last stage of these Rio Games, and Cuba can still dream about fulfilling its goal of being within the top 20 countries on the medal table.
Note: Cuba won its third gold medal on Thursday with boxer Jorge de la Cruz winning in the 81 kilogram category. Two other Cuban fighters, Arlen López y Robeisy Ramírez advanced to their respective final bouts.