By Lemay Padron Oliveros*
HAVANA TIMES — Chile took the medal for South America in the World Wrestling Championships a few days ago in Paris. However, this historic event is in grand part due to Cuba’s group of trainers.
Yasmani Acosta was the one responsible for this debut on the medal stand at the 2017 Paris Championships, after winning 2-0 against Ukranian wrestler Mykola Kuchmii in the battle for bronze in the 130 kilogram category in Greco-Roman wrestling.
He had previously beaten Georgian wrestler Levan Arabuli 5-0, 3-1 against the US wrestler Robert Smith, and 5-0 against Korean Min-Seok Kim, before losing 1-3 in the semi-finals to Estonian wrestler Heiki Nabi, an experienced gladiator who finished the competition as the runner-up and also held the world title in 2013, and second place in the London 2012 Olympics.
After the battle for third place, the Cuban wrestler recognized that it was hard work both because of the quality of his opponent as well as the physical demands.
“This match demanded a lot from me. I felt a little bit tired, more than I did in previous fights in spite of having rested several hours, and now I think that it might have even been better to have fought again straight after,” the native from Matanzas told us.
During this resting period between the preliminary line-up and the final fights, he confessed that he had been talking to his father, who had arrived in the Ciudad Luz from Spain to support him, and he also gave him advice.
“My strategy was always to attack my rival, using my physical strength. I came here to give the best I could, and I knew almost all of my rivals just from watching TV,” he explained to me in the mixed area at the Parisian Arena Accord Hotel, where the delegation from his home country (Cuba) took home three bronze medals, one in Greco-Roman wrestling and the other two in Freestyle.
Lastly, he remembered that a large percentage of his bronze medal has to do with the skills he had learned in Cuba, especially with three-time Olympic winner Mijain Lopez, as he had been his main training partner.
“He was always my mentor and I will never forget that. I always talk to him, he doesn’t stop giving me advice, and I owe him a lot of what I have learned, because we used to train together and he taught me a lot of things. I know that with him there, I was always going to lose because nobody in the world can beat him, but that doesn’t affect our friendship,” the 1.95m giant told me, who just turned 29 years old.
The truth is that Chile has made a great entrance onto the wrestling podium after having come in 23rd place, which was their best result, in 2005, which had been casually won by Andres Ayub in this same weight category and fighting style.
Ayub is the man who Yasmany told of his intentions to leave Cuba, during one of the training sessions that the Chilean team was taking part in Havana.
The story behind the man
Until 2015, Yasmany Acosta’s life used to be training and waiting for an opportunity to wrestle. In the shadow of undefeated Mijain Lopez, there wasn’t a lot left for Acosta to do in terms of international tournaments, and his future didn’t look much brighter either, at 27 years old, with the intention of winning several universal gold medals getting him to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Pan-American Wrestling Championships, which were held in Chile in April 2015, was the moment that changed his life. It was there that he decided to radically change the course of his life and he deserted the national team after Cuba received an invitation to the Pan-American Championships that year. He left his mother and a brother behind in Cuba.
At first, he had to juggle his work between training and his day-job as a security guard, like the rest of Chilean wrestlers do.
After two years of not having officially fought, he reappeared in this competition representing Chile at the Pan-American Championships in Brazil, and he ended up winning a silver medal. This final match was against the Cuban wrestler Oscar Pino, who also won a bronze medal a few days ago at the Paris World Championships, but Yasmany didn’t show up, in an act of altruism which even those Cubans who refuse to greet him, believing him to be a traitor, appreciated.
Thanks to this outcome, he told me that the Chilean authorities took an interest in him and he could lay out the path to get Chilean nationality.
This is how he began his new career as a wrestler, reborn in this South American nation, and in this season there were the international events of the Spanish Grand Prix and the Corneanu in Romania.
“I worked with Professor Nestor Almanza (who is also Cuban), we worked on strategy and technique. I have gained more muscle tissue, I normally weigh 140 kg and less without a problem for the competition. I feel strong in this category and with the agility I need to win.”
What does this medal mean to you?
“I am so over the moon and happy. I came to give it everything I had, to die in the ring, and if I had lost, I knew that it wouldn’t have been because I didn’t try my best.”
Chilean or Cuban?
“I am a Cuban, I always will be, even though I live in Chile, because you never forget your roots. I made a tough decision, which practically means I can never go back; I don’t regret it because I didn’t have any other future in sports and I always knew there was more work for me to do. My father was one of the people who used to “encourage” me to leave Cuba, and he has been the only relative that I have been able to hug throughout all this time.”