Roberto Ramírez, JIT, July 27, 2015
As we left behind the last night of the XVII Pan American Games, the Cuban delegation left for home dissatisfied because it did not retain its traditional second place standing.
Much can be said about the result, from the fact that Canada’s performance exceeded all expectations, to the fact that predictions failed to keep in mind that high performance requires expenditures that are not always available to us at the time they are needed.
We also know that Cuba did not compete in 147 of the 364 events. This means that Cuba also had to make the most of and secure good results in the events it specializes in, a goal that was not fully met.
More than 15 competitors considered favourites in their disciplines did not live up to expectations, which weighed heavily on the negative side. At the same time, others performed better than expected and gave us unforgettable moments, such as when Richer Pérez took gold in the marathon.
With these realities and others, Cuba’s medal take was limited to 36 gold, 27 silver and 24 bronze. Meanwhile Canada catapulted to 78-69-70, ending up second to the U.S. with its 103-81-81. Brazil came third with 41-40-60.
Although strategic assessments should be left to the experts, some things already come to mind. The first is that Canada’s potential was not fully appreciated, except for recognizing the added advantage of competing at home.
It is no secret that some sports are now receiving the kinds of support previously denied in many counties. Impressive sums of money based on sponsorships and other arrangements are making it possible for some countries in the Americas to improve their rank.
With respect to the distribution of medals, the scenario today is nothing like it was 20 years ago. At that time no one would have dreamed of the U.S. being kept out of first place for several days, or of Colombia winning 27 gold medals to finish in fifth place.
This new reality offers a glimpse at an increasingly complex future. An in-depth review is needed into why the predictions were so off in Toronto only months after being almost exact for the Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz.
And all aspects of the competition must be considered more profoundly so as to look beyond just the ranking. Maximum performance must correspond to an athlete’s actual ability, though the opponent may end up being better.
All this needs to be done without overlooking the fact that the fight waged here was completely different from the one in Guadalajara. Keep in mind the serious pressures Cuban athletes are subjected to that once again added to the obvious tension associated with a very high level competition.
We cannot fail to mention other points: the efforts of the Cuban athletes, while sometimes without medals, always inspired members of the Cuban delegation to go out to the venue. And no adversity, including the desertions, dented Cuba’s fighting spirit which was never about triumphalism.
The Rio Olympics are just around the corner and offer the perfect opportunity for the Cuban team to deliver a better result. They can overcome the challenges revealed at the Toronto games.