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Tuesday, 11 September 2018 12:09

Golden Women

Written by Oscar Sánchez Serra
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María Caridad Colón. María Caridad Colón. Photo: Archive

Only 40 countries have won more than 10 gold medals in the Olympics, and Cuban women have won 12

 

It is clear that no human effort is perfect, but if anything could approach perfection it is the hands of a woman, their sensitivity, ability to organize, to manage.

Cuba has won 220 medals in Olympic Games, the most longstanding competition in world sports. Of these, 77 are gold, 69 silver, and 74 bronze. Cuban women are the owners of 49 - 12 golden, 17 silver, and 20 bronze. If they had competed as a nation, they would be fifth in the ranking of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, surpassed only by Brazil (30-36-61-127), Jamaica (22-33-22-77), Argentina (21-25-28-74), and Mexico (13-24-32-69).

Only 40 national delegations have won more than 10 gold medals in the Olympics, and Cuban women have won 12.

Cuba gave Latin America and the Caribbean its first female champion and also the first judoka in the region to win a gold medal.

Driulis González. Photo: Ricardo López HeviaDriulis González. Photo: Ricardo López Hevia

An entire edition would not be enough to recall all of the glory, so with recollections of three women, all are honored - starting with the first, Miguelina Cobián, Marlene Elejalde, Fulgencia Romay, and Violeta Quesada, with their silver in the 4x100 relay in Mexico 1968, to Idalys Ortiz, Río de Janeiro 2016.

NOTHING COMES CLOSE TO HER METTLE

Her elegant rhythm on the track and her demon-possessed race to the finish gave her the nickname Caribbean Storm. Her name was Ana Fidelia, for Fidel, with whom she shared a lovely complicity.

Ana Fidelia Quirot. Photo: ArchiveAna Fidelia Quirot. Photo: Archive

"If a competition for treating an injured person had been organized, the doctors, nurses, psychologists, and the rest of the staff who cared for me surely would have won a gold medal. So the victory won during this past World Championship is also the victory of Cuban medicine, the victory of a people that does not surrender when faced with difficulties, the victory of ideas and principles. What can I say to you on a day like today? That I accept this tribute with great humility and deep gratitude.

Thanks to the Revolution I was able to become an athlete; thanks to the Revolution and its generosity, I was able to overcome the accident; thanks to Fidel and his attention, I was able to compete and win; thanks to the solidarity and support of the people, I received enough motivation and encouragement to struggle and win."

These were her words on September 15, 1995, upon accepting the gold medal at the World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. Her accomplishment was colossal. On January 22, 1993, she suffered a life-threatening domestic accident, causing her a miscarriage and burns over 40% of her body.

The Comandante en Jefe visited her bedside more than 20 times, accompanying her on this race one step at a time, through agonizing moments, to save the life of a woman born in Palma Soriano, precisely on July 26, ten years after the assaults on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons.

In that Swedish city, she wrote her own history, winning a gold medal on August 13, the same day Fidel celebrated his 69th birthday. After this feat and a silver medal won in Athens 1997, Fidel said, "Two things came together to save Fidelia: a miracle of science and that technique with the miracle of human willpower. We have won many sports victories, but I don't think anything as exciting as this has ever occurred, that moves, that shakes the body and soul's fibers, as the news of this victory did."

BETWEEN THE HUMAN & THE DIVINE

On July 20, 2013, my colleague Joel García was able to extract a confession from this female athlete born in Baracoa: "My maternal grandfather told me that his father, Félix Ruenes, received Martí in Playitas, when he landed for the war of 1895. In his campaign diary, Martí talks about him and this is something sacred for the entire family, especially for those of us who have been able to humbly represent the country around the world."

María Caridad Colón, on July 25, 1980, in the city of Moscow, became the first woman to give Latin America and the Caribbean a gold medal.

Four women had much better records throwing the javelin. She didn't even figure among the favorites. She alone thought she had a chance, despite her full awareness of the situation. A pain in her shoulder allowed her only one attempt in the qualifying round, and it was good enough. On the day of the finals, minutes before her turn, Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambra had to inject the small of her back. She was not even able to warm up like her rivals, since the effort not only took her breath away, but could potentially have cost her the chance to compete.

She watched German Ruth Fush, winner in Munich-1972 and Montreal-1976, María Caridad's idol and example, and the Soviet Union's Tatiana Biryulina, who had made a world record throw just two weeks earlier. Her moment arrived and the aluminum spear left the 22-year-old's hand and sailed into the sky over Luzhniki Stadium, falling at 68.40 meters, to set an Olympic record. She could throw no more, but made history giving Latin America and the Caribbean its first gold medal.

THE MOST PRECIOUS TREASURE

A joint training session with the Netherlands in Havana, just three months before the Atlanta 1996 Summer Games, left her on the ground, barely able to move. She was quickly transported to the hospital and the first diagnosis appeared to mean an end to her career in sports. A serious neck injury threatened her mobility. The greatest hope of any athlete was escaping her, but she is Driulis González, a Cuban woman from Guantanamo, a tireless fighter.

When no one believed in a miracle, she and her trainer, another invincible, Ronaldo Veitía, were sure of one. She spent the next three months in a wheel chair, leaving it just 15 days before the Atlanta meet.

"I only thought about winning; the "gordo" told me I was ready and that I would accomplish it." Sun-Yong Jung, the South Korean she had defeated the year before at the Chiba World Championships in Japan, would again be her most challenging opponent, and once again Cuba's top judoka took control of the mat.

The Olympic champion, World champion, Pan American and Central American champion didn't miss a beat. Nevertheless, her most treasured prize is not this one. This place is reserved for the honor she had on June 30, 2007, when as the standard bearer for the Cuban delegation to the Pan American Games leading up to Río de Janeiro-2007, she received the nation's flag from Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, at Havana's José Martí Memorial. (Granma)

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