The ups and downs of Cuban sports in 2018

Although the Cuban delegation lost its first place on the medal chart in Barranquilla, the Games saw a stellar performance from our women’s field hockey team, among other great moments | Ricardo López Hevia

The year 2018 is now all but a memory but, before entering into the challenges and emotions that 2019 will bring, it is worth taking a moment to review the main sporting events in which Cubans participated this past year, without overlooking those tournaments where, in spite of their absence, important sporting records were set.

For Cuba, 2018 was a memorable year internationally, for different reasons. At the Barranquilla Central American and Caribbean Games, the Cuban delegation lost the top spot on the medal chart to Mexico, after having dominated since the 1966 edition.

However, some sports took on a new life for Cuba in Barranquilla. To cite just four examples, there were stellar performances in handball, field hockey, water polo, and swimming, disciplines in which both men and women athletes demonstrated a come back that will see its next big test at the Pan American Games in Lima later this year. There, the Cuban sporting movement will seek to recover its second place, lost in the Toronto 2015 Games.

Individually, Cuban athletes offered their fans countless reasons to celebrate over the last 12 months. The Domadores de Cuba boxing team won its third title in the VIII World Boxing Series. Cyclist Arlenis Sierra, from Granma, was ranked 12th in the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) world ranking, after securing excellent results in prestigious circuits in the United States, Europe, and Asia, gaining her 958 points. Meanwhile, judoka Idalys Ortiz dominated the worldwide +78 kilograms division, with 6,390 points.

A sport that always brings Olympic and World medals is wrestling, and 2018 was no exception. In the World Wrestling Championships, held in Budapest, Hungary, the Cuban delegation finished 12th among 88 countries.

Freestyle wrestler Yowlys Bonne (61kg), from Guantánamo, took the world title, while Alejandro Valdés (65kg), Franklin Marén (70kg) and the young Lianna Montero (55kg) secured bronze in the same discipline. Greco-Roman wrestler Oscar Pino (130kg) also finished in third place.

Cuba’s men’s soccer team qualified for the 2019 CONCACAF Gold CupRicardo López Hevia

Athletics is one of the areas with the greatest potential in the next two years, supported by young and talented athletes. In 2018, long jumper Juan Miguel Echevarría was proclaimed World indoor champion; while his compatriot Jordan Díaz took gold in the triple jump at the World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, and at the Youth Olympic Games, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Also set to be closely followed given their recent performances are long jumper Maykel Vidal (silver in Tampere), triple jumper Davisleydi Velazco, discus thrower Silinda Morales, and hammer thrower Yaritza Martínez, the last three winners of bronze metals in the Finnish city.

Among the established athletes, discus thrower Yaimé Pérez saw the greatest achievement in 2018, recognized as Best Female Athlete of the Year in Cuba, thanks to a brilliant season. The athlete from Santiago beat the phenomenal Croatian, Sandra Perkovic, in the final of the Diamond League, in addition to marking her third best record, with a throw of 67.82 meters.

Cuban men’s and women’s volleyball teams attended several international tournaments in 2018, but despite qualifying for their respective world championships, they failed to secure good results. The men’s team ranked 18th among 24 teams participating in the World Championship held in Italy and Bulgaria. The women’s team, meanwhile, finished 22nd of 24, in a tournament held in Japan.

Turning to another sport, Cuban fans dream of seeing their soccer players at a World Cup, or at least reaching the final qualifying phase for the tournament. For now, this appears a pipedream. However, in 2018 the men’s team qualified for the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The young women’s team also advanced to the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship, the highest tournament of the region, but failed to score in their three Group B matches against Costa Rica (0-8), Canada (0-12) and Jamaica (0-9).

We can’t talk about Cuban sports without mentioning baseball. The past year reflected the reality of this sport, with more disappointments than victories in international events. In Barranquilla, the national team finished with the silver medal, while in the Caribbean Series, national champion Granma didn’t make it beyond the semifinals. In the game against the United States, the Cubans lost at home, while the national U23 team failed to qualify for the World Cup.

However, the agreement signed at the end of December between the U.S. Major Leagues and the Cuban Baseball Federation sparks new hopes for fans, who view this step as an option that will contribute to raising the quality of the sport here.

More importantly, this agreement is tacit recognition of the quality of Cuban baseball, and the position we have taken in defense of the dignity and sovereignty of our sport.

In the international arena, several world tournaments took place in 2018, with the FIFA World Cup being the highlight. The French national team was proclaimed champion on Russian soil, on the basis of an effective attack and solid strategy during each of its matches.

The Olympic Games saw two events in 2018, beginning with the Winter Games held in the month of February, in the South Korean city of PyeongChang, where Norway ranked first (14 gold, 4 silver, 11 bronze medals). The summer saw the Youth Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Cuba presented 19 athletes and finished with four gold and two bronze medals, enough to consolidate its 16th place on the medal chart, which was headed by Russia (29-18-12).

The Bolivian city of Cochabamba hosted the 11th South American Games, May 26 – June 8, where Colombia showed its sporting progress by securing first place with 94 gold medals, 74 silver, and 71 bronze.

One of the most popular international multi-sport events of 2018 was the Commonwealth Games, held April 4-15, on the Australian Gold Coast, where the hosts dominated with a total of 198 metals (83 gold).



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