Cuba Is Putting Its Heart into the Olympic Games in Tokyo

When dawn broke this morning on the fourteenth day of the Olympic Games, Cuba was in 15th place in the Tokyo medal standings. It is admirable and not fortuitous that the small island of only 11 million people is 15th among the 204 countries attending the world games.

Each of the talented athletes who represent the Cuban flag in Japan trained and sacrificed to represent their country. The passion they exhibit on the field, including those who have not won medals, moves us here.

Cuba will not forget the tears of young Juan Miguel Echevarría, who was hampered by a femoral bicep injury that prevented him from jumping for the sixth time during the final competition on August 1.

He knelt just above the takeoff board and hit the ground with his fists. “I cried, but not from the joy of the silver medal, but from the pain of losing the gold,” he told the press.

The island will also not forget the joy on the face of four-time Olympic champion Mijaín López when he defeated his rival Iakob Kadzhaia in Greco-Roman wrestling on August 2. All of Cuba was awake at 4am local time to watch the match of the irreducible Cuban giant, who won with little effort and became the best wrestler in the history of this sport.

“I think I’m just doing my job,” Mijaín said minutes after the victory as if he had not just accomplished this tremendous feat.

“I am fulfilling what I learned, what I was taught by my ancestors, my parents, my children, my grandparents… No matter how great you are, humility will always be greater than virtue,” he added.

Then on August 2, a photo was taken by a Cuban photographer that took Cuba by storm: the legendary Mijaín López carrying Luis Alberto Orta, who also won the gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling, just 30 minutes apart. A Cuban flag was shining brightly between the two of them.

Athletes have not only gone to Japan to leave their hearts, but they have also gone to defend their country from any provocation or expression of hatred. This was the case of young boxer Julio Cesar la Cruz, who faced Cuban-Spanish Enmanuel Reyes during the most awaited fight of July 30.

The fight occurred shortly after Reyes, who was representing the Spanish flag in the ring, threatened to “tear off the head” of his opponent, regardless of the fact that both were born in the same country.

“I will be the first person to shout ‘Patria y Vida’ (Homeland and Life) in the Olympics,” he added, alluding to the song that has allegedly become the anthem of the Cuban right-wing.

La Cruz won after beating Reyes in the first and third rounds. Before getting out of the ring, he shouted at the top of his lungs, “Homeland and Life, no. Homeland or Death. We will prevail,” in honor of Cuba’s historic leader Fidel Castro.

Not only have the athletes given their all in these Olympic Games. The sports reporters have also been heroes, and they have served as a bridge between Cubans and the emotions experienced in Tokyo.

No Cuban will forget journalist Renier Gonzalez’s narration of the 1,000-meter double canoe race, in which the Cubans Serguey Torres and Fernando Dayan Jorge Enriquez won the gold medal by a mere 0.2 seconds.

As the final-second battle between the Chinese canoe and the Cuban canoe, Gonzalez fired off words as he sat up and stood from his seat; “Here comes the Cuban canoe, here comes the Chinese canoe… Seguey, Dayan. Come on, let’s all paddle, Cubans. Come on. We will have a medal. China, Cuba, Cuba. Gold medal for Cuba! The Cuban canoe is gold!”

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who has called each medalist after every victory, could not contain his emotion as he congratulated Torres and Fernando Dayán. “The final seconds were electrifying. You rowed your hearts out,” he told them.

The feat of this small Caribbean island in Tokyo has been historic. The athletes are holding Cuba’s name up high amid the most difficult conditions. The country is fighting against a seemingly unstoppable pandemic while media attacks are gaining strength, and food and medicine shortages persist. However, Cuba perceives the Tokyo Olympics as a shining example of the resistance of the Cuban people to hatred, to adversity.

Alejandra Garcia is a Cuban journalist who writes for Resumen Latinoamericano (English). Read other articles by Alejandra.