Cuban boxers exit the Olympic ring without any gold

The News TribuneAugust 24, 2008 

BEIJING - For the storied Cuban boxing program, the Summer Olympics evolved into a glass half-full, glass half-empty conundrum.

The case for half-full: Cuba finished with eight medals, most in the boxing competition, with four silver medals and four bronze. The performance precisely fulfilled the pre-games assessment of Cuba coach Pedro Roque, who hesitated to predict gold for any of his fighters, but said, "I think we can try to win several silver and bronze medals."

And the case for half-empty?

Roque's team returns home with no gold medals. Not since 1968, when they made their summer games boxing debut in Mexico City, have the Cubans not produced at least one champion from any Olympics in which they've participated. (Cuba boycotted the games in 1984 and '88.)

And while the national boxing program of Cuba's largest neighbor would be thrilled with eight medals, it's a major decline from 2004, when Cuba earned five golds, two silvers and a bronze. Of those gold-medal recipients, four went on to pro careers and another retired, necessitating the overhaul for Beijing.

The road here was fraught with other problems. After two boxers defected from the Pan-Am Games in Brazil, Cuba declined to send a delegation to the 2007 World Championships in Chicago.

Furthermore, for the first time since 1972, Cuba failed to send representatives in all 11 weight classes, after light heavyweight Julio la Cruz Perez was eliminated from his Olympic qualifier last April.

"Our people have to recognize the fact these guys are a cycle ahead," said Roque, referring to the head start his young team has taken on the 2012 games in London. "They came here with no experience, and they've won eight medals. No gold, I know, but nobody was expecting more than one or two medals at all for us. Now we have not only eight medals, but also a team with Olympic experience ready to start preparing for the next Olympics."

Cuba had two last chances at Workers Gymnasium on Sunday. But bantamweight Yanikiel Leon Alarcon lost to Mongolia's Badar-Uugan Enkhbat, 16-5. A half-hour later, welterweight Carlos Banteaux Suarez got beaten, 18-9, by Kazakhstan's Bakhyt Sarsekbayev.

Banteaux Suarez was able to dictate the pace during a plodding first round that ended with him leading 1-0, but then got lured into free-for-for in the second round, exchanging flurries that more often missed his opponent than struck him.

"He's got more experience than me," said Banteaux Suarez. "I was down in the second round, so I changed my tactics and then I mssed up. I lost the bout in the second round."

At 21, Banteaux Suarez typifies his team's growing pains. Eight of the 10 fighters who came to Beijing are not yet 25.

"When boxers like Teofilo Stevenson used to fight for Cuba, it was completely different because they had a lot of experience in international competitions," said Roque. "They knew how to handle every situation without losing control. These guys came here with a huge responsibility, a lot of pressure, and they couldn't win gold medals. But they've never given up. They gave their best until the end."

Still, for the first time in a long time, Cuba's fighters didn't enter the boxing venue owning an intimidation-factor edge over the competition.

"We were never afraid of Cuban boxers," said Sarsekbaywv, the gold medalist from Kazakhstan. "Boxers from Kazakhstan are able to chanllenge any opponents in the world because boxing in Kazakhstan has always been a world-class level...

"But Cuba will be OK. They love their sport, they love their country; their boxers are very strong. Boxing in Cuba has a good future."

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