Cuban Olympians — How Many Will Defect and When?
- July 26th, 2012
By Ivan G. Goldman
Cuban security thugs will have their hands full trying to prevent Cuban fighters and other Olympic athletes from bolting in London. It always creates additional drama at these global competitions as we try to guess when the first one will take off and how many will follow. You can bet there’s a lot of whispering going on in those hotel corridors.
As Scoop Malinowski pointed out on this site last month, the boxing team is once again rich with talent after faltering a bit in China four years ago. This time they’re loaded with world-beaters from previous global tournaments. But how many of them will still be on the roster when the plane comes home to Havana?
That’s the real question — not how many Gold Medals these formidable chicos and chicas will pick up, but how of them many will return to a land where just finding a sheet of toilet paper is a feat worth recording in your diary. How you gonna keep ‘em down in the wretched deprivation of Communist Cuba after they’ve seen Piccadilly Circus, the iPhone, and all-you-can eat buffets?
Past defectors include Alexei Collado, Odlanier Solis, Joel Casamayor, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yuriokis Gamboa, Erislandy Lara, and Yan Barthelemy. They leave a history the Fidelista island’s rulers would prefer to forget. For example, heavyweight Solis, flyweight Gamboa, and light flyweight Barthelemy reportedly sold their 2004 Olympic Gold medals to buy food for their families before running off in December 2006 from a training camp in Venezuela.
“Gold medals are wonderful, but athletes can’t eat their gold medals,” explained boxing trainer Roberto Quesada, a Cuban coach who eventually defected to train fighters in Miami. The defections aren’t just limited to boxers. For example, seven soccer players melted into Tampa in 2008 while competing in the Olympic qualifying tournament. It’s a big problem. How do you show off your athletes in international competition when you can’t take them out of the country? Because if you take them off the island, there’s only so much a security team can do to keep them under your control.
It’s especially difficult to prevent them from taking off if they’re willing to escape before athletic competition even begins. If they just keep walking during the opening march, you can’t Mace them in front of a couple billion spectators and a regiment of London bobbies.
In other fight news from the Games, not a single U.S. boxer made the New York Times list of 25 athletes to watch in this Olympics. That doesn’t mean it’s all over but the shouting. What the Times doesn’t know about boxing could fill a cargo container. The fact remains that there’s just no buzz coming out of this team, although Ring Magazine, Golden Boy’s media poodle, has announced that the promoter plans to feature a card for Olympic athletes October 14, apparently on daytime CBS. GB plans another one of these cards for December. Note that there’s no mention of the nationalities of the fighters.
Golden Boy appears awfully confident, as though it’s already chosen its people. But what could be the details of promotional agreements with these still-amateur athletes when the results of the Games have yet to be determined? A Gold medalist is certainly worth a heck of a lot more than someone who lost in the first round. Maybe the contracts have a lot of blank spaces to be filled in later. Meanwhile, the promotional company’s CEO, Richard Schaefer, apparently is already on the ground in London checking out fighters — along with competing talent scouts, we can be certain.
The only boxer from any country who was named to the New York Times list was Katie Taylor of Ireland, a 26-year-old competitor who’s just about everyone’s pick for lightweight Gold. She’s the current Irish, European, and world women’s boxing champion. Taylor, a superb athlete who’s played on Ireland’s national women’s soccer team, would be the first Irish Olympian to take home Gold since 1996. The attractive Taylor is already a superstar in her little country of 4.5 million souls and will carry her country’s flag into the stadium for the opening ceremonies.
If you’re on the West Coast, get your DVRs ready, because the first Olympic boxing comes on the tube Saturday at 5:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on CNBC. That’s a relatively civilized 8:30 a.m. for East Coasters.
Ivan G. Goldman’s latest novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE
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