Castro’s Olympic warriors roar into Athens

Agence France Presse — English
July 30, 2004 Friday

Castro’s Olympic warriors roar into Athens


PARIS, July 30

Fidel Castro’s Olympic warriors are set to take Athens by storm as
Cuban boxers set out to show the Americans and east Europeans they
are still the best.

Cuban fighters have won 27 gold medals since the great Teofilo
Stevenson won the first of his three titles at Munich in 1972 and
that takes into account the boycotted Games of 1984 and 1988.

That is eight more than the US has managed in the same period, though
they boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow.

Cuban coach Alcides Sagarra says Cubans fight to win.

“We are training to take all 11 gold medals at Athens. You don’t win
if you aim low,” he says.

Castro banned professional sport in 1962 but his unswerving support
of his ideological warriors ensures young Cubans all the help they

“Our social system guarantees their development,” says Sagarra.

Ideology and tough training make the Cubans tough opponents ready to
defend their flag. Stevenson even turned down a fistful of money to
challenge Muhammad Ali.

And Sagarra believes Cuban ability to dance like a butterfly makes
them able to defend themselves like Muhammad Ali.

“European boxers use their strength. We’re more like salsa dancers.”

Cuba and Russia shared top gun status with three gold medals each at
last year’s world championships in Bangkok.

Kazakhstan proved a surprise package with two golds while hosts
Thailand picked up their first ever title.

The Cubans won seven out of 12 gold medals at the 2001 championships
and had to depend on reigning champions Lorenzo Aragon
(welterweight), Mario Kindelan (lightweight) and Odlanier Fonte Solis
(heavyweight) to keep them in the spotlight in Thailand.

They will have noted 2001 champion Yan Varelan Bateleny’s defeat to
Zou Shiming, a pencil-slim 22-year-old Chinese with quick hands and
feet, in the light flyweight division.

Russia’s Sergei Kazakov proved too strong on finals night but the
watching coaches were made well aware that a sleeping giant had been

But the Cubans believe they have got back into shape in their
year-round training camp.

Athens prospects are headed by Kindelan and Guillermo Rigondeaux,
54kg, who won two of Cuba’s four gold medals at the Sydney Games four
years ago.

Kindelan, 31, plans to go out with a bang as he retires after Athens.

Rigondeaux wans to make amends for last year’s world championship
defeat to Agasi Mamedov of Azerbaijan which signalled his first loss
since 1996.

Mamedov had lost to Rigondeaux in the bantamweight final at the 2001
worlds and the quarter-finals of the Sydney Olympics.

The US saw eight of their boxers lose in the first round in Bangkok
amid allegations of biased judging and pleaded with the sport’s
governing body to clean up anti-American sentiment.

Armenian-born 18-year-old Vanes Martirosyan, who lost to Aragon in
the Olympic test event in May is confident he has learnt enough to
get the better of the Cuban the next time around.

Head coach Basheer Abdullah believes the Army, Islam and life on the
streets have given him what it takes to lead the US team to Olympic

And like Malcolm X he says he speaks the language of the people.

But, ultimately, it is up to everyone giving 100 per cent … and
trusting in God.

“Sometimes the judging is biased, politics are involved and some
people think the scoring system is bad but I don’t buy into any of
that,” he says.

And he says if his fighters stick to the Big Three they can win.

“Hands up, be first and stay in the centre of the ring. Our boxers
must add these three things,” he says.

Thai featherweight Somluck Kumsing, gold medallist at the 1996
Atlanta Games, brings the experience needed to survive in the Olympic
coliseum while 17-year-old Amir Khan of Britian has the cocky
assurance of youth.

Khan, who is fighting in the same category as world number one
Kindelan, says: “I know about Mario Kindelan, who won in the Olympics
in Sydney, and I think he’s beatable.

“I’ve also seen a couple from Asia and Africa and they looked good
but I think I’d be all right against them and beat any of them.”