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Cuba targeting Tokyo glory amid pandemic problems

China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-12 09:54
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Cuban sport shooter Laina Perez, 32, has her sights firmly set on a "dream" Olympic debut as she trains at a bio-secure bubble in Havana ahead of this summer's postponed Tokyo Games.

Perez won the gold medal in the 10-meter air pistol discipline at the 2019 Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru, becoming the first woman to stand on the podium for the Cuban delegation at the event.

The Tokyo Games, scheduled for July 23-Aug 8, will be her first Olympics.

"This is a dream I had long been waiting for. I feel like a winner already," she told Xinhua.

As the island nation faces its sharpest rise in coronavirus infections since the pandemic began in March 2020, a batch of elite Cuban athletes continue to train at bubble sites across the country, abiding by stringent safety guidelines and COVID-19 protocols.

Among them is Cuba's Pan-American freestyle wrestling champion Alejandro Valdes, who left home for the central province of Sancti Spiritus to train amid the pandemic.

"Over the past weeks, we have reinforced training sessions. Everything is going well for the moment," Valdes told Xinhua in an online interview.

With just over 100 days to go before the Olympics, Cuba's sports authorities expect some 80 competitors from the Caribbean nation to participate in the Games. Of the 42 already qualified, there are 14 track and field athletes, 12 wrestlers, and five sport shooters.

In addition, athletes from canoeing, artistic gymnastics, pentathlon, taekwondo, and rowing have also booked their Tokyo tickets, according to official information.

A number of Cuban judokas hope to join them as they continue to gain points in international events to move up the qualification rankings for Tokyo.

Meanwhile, beach volleyball, boxing, and baseball teams are preparing to compete for Olympic berths in qualifying events over the coming months.

Ariel Sainz, vice-president of Cuba's National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, told state media that the pandemic had affected the participation of local athletes in international competitions due to border controls in many countries.

"Cuban Greco-Roman wrestlers Mijain Lopez and Ismael Rivera, boxers Julio Cesar la Cruz and Andy Cruz, and track and field athletes Yaime Perez and Juan Miguel Echevarria have major chances of winning medals for the Cuban delegation at the Tokyo Games," he said.

The medical crisis has forced elite Cuban athletes to set up improvised gyms on rooftops and balconies to improve their fitness and performance while staying at home.

On Saturday, the Caribbean nation registered 1,040 cases of COVID-19 and five more related deaths, bringing the total national counts in each category to 85,572 and 453 respectively.

Cuban athletes are currently participating as volunteers in an intervention study in Havana to test the efficacy of the domestically produced Soberana 02 COVID-19 vaccine, which has entered a third phase of clinical trials.

"Training hard with discipline and qualifying for Tokyo is the best present we could give to health workers, and in my case, becoming an Olympic champion for the second time," boxer Julio Cesar la Cruz told local media after being vaccinated.

Cuba has amassed 226 medals since its debut at the 1900 Games in Paris, ranking first among Latin American and Caribbean countries in Olympic history.

Predicted to win around five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, Cuba is hoping to finish in the top 20 of the medal table.

Pavel Otero, a Cuban sports journalist and commentator working for state TV, told Xinhua that Cuba will participate in the Tokyo Games with a small delegation compared to previous Olympics.


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