Havana, Jun 20 (EFE).- With equal parts optimism and realism, Cuba has set a goal of a securing another second-place finish – behind regional powerhouse Mexico – in the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games.
Boxing, wrestling, athletics, handball, volleyball, field hockey and canoeing are the main targets for the Communist-ruled island.
Cuba also has medal aspirations in chess (a discipline that will debut this year) in the Games’ 24th edition, which will be held in San Salvador from June 23 to July 8.
Among Cuba’s top individual athletes are judokas Idalys Ortiz and Andy Granda, wrestler Luis Orta and boxer Julio Cesar La Cruz, while men’s volleyball, men’s and women’s handball and men’s beach volleyball are the teams with the biggest medal expectations.
The vice president of Cuba’s National Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Recreation (Inder), Ariel Sainz, recently said the Caribbean country is focused on holding on to its elevated position in the Central American and Caribbean Games’ overall medal count.
He acknowledged, however, that the country would not be able to recapture the top spot it had held consistently from Panama City 1970 until the Games held in Veracruz, Mexico, in 2014 (not including two in which it did not participate – San Salvador 2002 and Mayaguez 2010).
In the most recent Games in Barranquilla, Colombia, in 2018, Cuba finished a distant second in the medal table.
Compared to the Caribbean nation, Mexico emerged victorious by a count of 132 golds to 102, 118 silvers to 72 and 91 bronzes to 68.
Looking ahead to this year, Mexico’s objective is to win 105 gold medals while Cuba has set of goal of securing 70 and 80 top prizes.
Although Sainz says Cuba will try to hold on to second place in San Salvador, a recent article in the official daily Granma cautioned that the level of competition has risen and that Colombia will be a strong contender for a runner-up finish.
Cuba’s prospects have not been helped by a severe economic crisis dating back more than two years, marked by shortages of basic products (food, medicine and fuel), frequent blackouts and elevated inflation.
Inder also said Cuba has faced “unprecedented competitive challenges” in 2023, noting that two other major competitions – the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, and the 2024 Paris Olympics – also are on the radar.
Nevertheless, Cuba is sending a large delegation of 504 athletes to El Salvador and the Dominican Republic (which will host a small number of events). Those competitors, only around 100 of whom competed in Barranquilla, have an average age of 25 and will participate in 365 events across 36 disciplines.
The director of the Sports Medicine Institute, Pablo Castillo Diaz, said the delegation is prepared both physically and psychologically to compete. He also added that all athletes have undergone at least one anti-doping test.
Mexico’s rise also has given that country the overall lead in total medals dating back to the first Games in 1926 with 3,872, compared to Cuba’s 3,320. (Mexico’s population is 12 times larger than that of the Caribbean island).
Cuba still has bragging rights, however, in terms of overall gold medals won in Central American and Caribbean Games – 1,752 to Mexico’s 1,367. EFE