After Río: What we have learned

Mijaín López ended the competition with a gold medal, his third consecutive Olympic title in the 130kg division | Ricardo López Hevia

RIO DE JANEIRO (Aug. 24) — Rereading the August 25, 2008, edition of Granma I notice the article “A Gold Medal For Honor”, written by the Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro. I do this every time I write a sports review. It just so happens that the aforementioned text was also related to the Olympic Games.

I shall repeat what the Comandante wrote eight years ago because I too shared the same sentiments and experience here in Río: “The Cuban athletes who competed in Beijing and, instead of gold medals, brought home silver or bronze or achieved a noteworthy position in the competitions, have enormous merit as representatives of the amateur sports that gave birth to the resurgence of the Olympic movement. They are insuperable examples for the world.”

However, in conducting a thorough review of the most recent Games, it is important to recall, as Fidel expressed in the very same article, that “Today the circumstances are different to those of the time when we relatively quickly came to occupy first place in the world for gold medals per capita, and this of course will not be repeated.”

In other words, we must approach a competition like the Olympics with this same objectivity, in order to understand the magnitude of the challenge and respond accordingly, with courage, intelligence, realism; attributes encapsulated in the concept of Revolution as described by Fidel on May 1, 2000.

Cuba attended the Río de Janeiro Games where it competed in 18 sports, winning medals in just four, or 20% of events. Of a delegation of 124 participating athletes, 11 secured podium spots, representing less than 10% of the total group. These stats however do not reflect the great efforts and immeasurable dedication of the athletes; but do provide a gauge to the delegation’s performance which seemed somewhat lacking, as athletes failed to meet expectations.

Cuba won a total of 11 medals, three less than in London 2012 (5-3-6) and 13 fewer than in Beijing 2008 (2-11-11), although the island won more gold medals this year than in the edition eight years ago, and an equal number to the last Games. In regards to Cuba’s position on the country medal chart, the island placed 28th in Beijing, 16th in London and 18th in Rio, thus meeting well-founded expectations to feature among the top 20.

Cuba’s ranking continues to represent a great achievement and is an apt reflection of the conditions in which the Cuban and global sporting movement are developing. Nonetheless, there exists a discrepancy between this level and the predictions made by various members of Cuba’s sporting federation or national commissions across a range of disciplines. During prior encounters with the press, which took place over more than a week at the end of June in Havana’s José Martí International Journalism Institute, officials from each discipline predicted medal wins which never materialized in Río de Janeiro.

Medals lost not for want of effort on the part of athletes, but inaccurate predictions which confused hopes with reality. And herein lies the problem; unrealistic assessments which leave us uncertain as to how to successfully complete the mission.

This edition of the Games was the most fiercely contested for podium spots, as illustrated by the following statistics: the first Games with representatives from over 60 countries to win gold, while a record 87 nations secured at least one medal, representing the highest number in the history of the competition.

Meanwhile, the absence of Russia in various events opened up opportunities for other countries with unlikely outcomes impacting the results table. Looking at medals from a regional perspective we can see that Europe took 47% of the bounty; the Americas 22% and Asia 21%, while Oceania and Africa only secured 5%.

Likewise, 65 Olympic and 19 national records were set during this 31st edition of the Games. (And 27 World Records – TS)

We must review Cuba’s performance in this city with a critical eye in order to appreciate the potential to surpass these results. We have already mentioned prioritizing, which means investing our scant resources in the most effective disciplines, by identifying strengths and opportunities early on. There is no doubt that these are currently concentrated in combat sports, such as boxing, wrestling, judo and taekwondo.

Although the National Institute of Sports and Physical Education (INDER) confirmed that athletes from these disciplines underwent special training, I believe that in future the emphasis must be on qualifying events, in which judo and taekwondo for example, came up short, struggling to advance after frequently having to face top ranked athletes in the opening rounds.

Likewise, it is important to carry out a rigorous assessment of athletes with little chance of securing a medal, despite their best efforts, as well as a thorough analysis of Cuban athletics, which arrived in Río with 43 competitors (36% of the total delegation) and left as the most inefficient group. A couple of years ago, speaking with Cuba’s first Olympic medalist of the revolutionary era Enrique Figuerola (100 meters silver medalist, Tokyo 1964), I posed the question: If the country has over 10,000 elementary schools why don’t we organize sprint meets among them? After all that’s where the kids are, and they are the most important element.

I didn’t expect Fígaro to reply, but we both asked ourselves what Physical Education teachers were doing, as they had the talent in their hands.
Let’s return to Fidel on August 25 and recall that “we are resting on our laurels. Let us all be honest and recognize this…Let us review every discipline, every human and material resource we devote to sports. We must carry out a thorough analysis, apply new ideas, concepts and knowledge, distinguish between what is done for the health of citizens and what must be done for the need to compete and further promote this instrument of wellbeing and health.”

Sport – in all its manifestations, including at a professional level – is a highly educational process, in which fluid communication with the athlete from whom we demand a great feat, is essential. To put it plainly, when working with men and women, and not machines, one must always be at their side, listening to them or, as Fidel’s reflection notes, “Let us do for them everything in our power.”

Despite their limitations, I believe the Cuban delegation to Río has earned the applause of the people because, as fellow journalist and Bohemia reporter Dayán García put it, those who inspired us here with their triumphs or with whom we suffered in their defeats, are human beings. The island finished 18th out of 206 National Olympic Committees. Remember the invincible Canada at the Pan American Games in To­ronto, just last year? That same country only managed to place 20th in the Río Games, a clear example of the hard-fought battle waged here.

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