Havana: Despite its small size, Cuba is a heavyweight in the world of sports, and may have several surprises up its sleeve for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The country’s 120-strong delegation to the upcoming Games includes as many as 39 athletes — 15 women and 24 men — who will compete in track and field, and perhaps pull a few surprises.
Four years ago at the 2012 London games, Cuba garnered two medals thanks to Yarisley Silva (silver, pole vault) and Leonel Suarez (bronze, decathlon).
Both are competing again this year, along with 2015 world discus throwing champion Denia Caballero and her teammate Yaime Perez, who ranks third worldwide in discus throw.
“Cuba could reach at least three or four medals, including the title,” former athlete and blogger Lilian Cid predicted in one of her two sports blogs.
Silva represents Cuba’s “trump card” in clinching a gold medal, said Cid, noting the athlete will land in Rio following a string of victories.
The delegation also features 2008 Beijing gold-medal winner Dayron Robles (110 metre hurdles) and world triple-jump runner up Pedro Pablo Pichardo, through both have only recently recovered from minor physical injuries that kept them out of competition this year.
But Cuba is betting more on youth this year than on experience. Only 12 of 45 athletes who competed at the London Games are heading to Rio, as the Caribbean island selected a younger squad, perhaps with an eye to the future.
Many of these athletes will be happy to simply improve on their personal best, noted Cid.
“Succeeding in improving your markers would be, in many cases, reason enough to celebrate their performance” at the Games, said Cid.
Since Cuba first took part in the Olympics in 1900 at Paris, the island nation has garnered 39 medals in track and field — 10 gold, 14 silver and 15 bronze.
With a total of 120 athletes competing in 18 disciplines, Cuba hopes to rank among this year’s top 15 Olympic delegations.