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Castro: 1996 Welcomes Olympic Athletes
Speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro during a ceremony held at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana to welcome the Cuban athletes, who participated in the Olympic Games in Atlanta

Let me turn off the music. Dear comrades: The long trip, the desire to be with your relatives, the place, and the sun do not make for the best conditions for a speech. That is why I was not planning to speak. Vicky [Victoria Velasquez, first secretary of the Union of Young Communists] has already expressed our feelings. I still wanted to greet and congratulate you anyway, I wanted to say a few words. First of all, I wanted to tell you that you have returned with the medal of dignity. That is the most important one for us. Secondly, I wanted to tell you that you have carried out a sports feat, all of you. You have fought with honor, with dignity. There were truly outstanding things in the Olympic Games. It is impossible to remember or repeat them all. I remember that our people closely followed everything that went on in Atlanta. Our people have lived the emotions with you and have shared the times of joy with the successes and have shared the times of sorrow in the difficult moments. [Words indistinct] for example, the Ana Fidelia Quirot race because we saw in her, the culmination of a heroic battle of many years. That is why when a reporter asked me how she did, I told him she had not won a gold medal, but that she had won a medal of diamonds. [Castro is interrupted by an airport announcement] The airport. [laughs]

Those were really significant feats. The one Driulis [Gonzalez] won [in judo], the gold medal she won because we know under what conditions she went there to fight. A few weeks ago she had been walking around with a printing machine [minerva]. It seemed a miracle impossible to achieve. It was also the miracle of our medicine.

Ivan Pedroso [in the long jump] did not win a medal and he was sure to win a medal. You know he had a difficult accident. I still remember seeing him in the hospital a few weeks before the Olympics. He was wearing a cast. It was almost impossible. I imagine they took him because they took into account his desire and determination. It was impossible to compete under those conditions. I consider him a gold medal winner because of the effort he made to classify in that competition. We hope the day he completely recovers he will be able to achieve the goals we had expected of him before the Olympic Games. He is sure to win a medal.

The victory of our baseball team was especially outstanding because you know what happened. You know how the great adversary prepared himself. You know how they tried to leave us without pitchers. You know how the team had to lift up its spirits to attain what he was able to attain. The team gave the country one of its greatest satisfactions. It undermined one of the greatest dreams of the adversary. [Words indistinct] women's volleyball team, real difficult games, always coming from behind. They fought until they obtained their victory, which gave the country a huge satisfaction. The effort made by our boxers was also brilliant. They won four medals. I consider the one won by boxer Duvergel is a gold medal, even though it is silver in color. He demonstrated his expertise, his experience, and he fell in combat as a soldier in the front lines, who is shot while fighting with courage in the front lines. He has the honor of falling in combat just when he was leading 15-5.

What can we say about the others, who fought with courage. Those who won gold medals in the areas in which our adversary thought it could defeat us. They could not defeat us. The effort of our wrestlers, weight lifters, swimmers, and track and field athletes was brilliant, including that incident in the 4x400 meter-relay, in which our comrade fell down. We could have won a medal there too. I am sure that all the Cuban people will speak to you about the competitions. I do not think they did anything else but watch television. It has experienced great emotions these days. Our country was the one that watched the most hours of Olympic Game coverage, almost twice as much as the number of hours watched by the United States, which carried the games, but mixed in with the commercials and 20 other things. The advertisements we carried here were placed on a little corner or on the bottom of the screen now and then. No commercial interrupted any event or any competition in Cuba. There was a difficult moment in which we did not know where to put... [pauses] because both television channels carried certain competitions in which we had volleyball on one and boxing on the other. Sometimes viewers chose Channel 2, but sometimes it had to carry normal programming. On the other hand we had Channel 6 carrying the other competitions. That was crazy. I do not know how many television sets were broken by viewers switching channels back and forth depending on how the event was going, the volleyball game sets were 14 points to 15 or the boxer was three points ahead or behind.

Now that I mention boxing, I must say that they behaved like giants. I am not just talking about Felix Savon, who is a giant. I am talking about [word indistinct], who is not a giant in height. He became a giant on the ring. He obtained a great victory on the ring. There were many things to praise, but the fundamental thing is that we must praise the courage, the effort, and the courage with which they fought. The lessons they have learned are also important. The competitions are more difficult.

More countries participated. In general, the countries made great efforts and we even contributed to such efforts. We felt the medal a Thai won was partly ours, because he had an instructor. How do they call them? [unidentified speaker: adviser] Not adviser... [unidentified speakers: trainer] A Cuban trainer. And other medals were won there with the help of Cuban instructors [as heard]. We will, nevertheless, not be so selfish as to deny others the possibility of improving in sports, especially in the Third World, where our trainers are, although some developed countries (?have asked us) for some trainers. We must draw the lesson that the Olympics will be increasingly difficult.

We missed the participation of Cuban athletes in many sports and we watched, with a certain sadness, that other countries did participate. The Olympics, of course, served to confirm how poorly the world is doing. There is enormous difference between the rich and developed countries and Third World countries.

There was a great ostentation of resources. They participated in all competitions, and we participated in about only half of them. How could countries of Africa and many countries of Asia and Latin America compete in horseback riding, which is a very expensive sport? Or in tennis, which has always been a sport for the rich? I do not know how many courts we have [chuckles] and what we do with them. Or swimming, which is a sport for the rich? And what about other sports for which no Latin American or Third World countries have enough resources? The Olympics is, therefore, a competition between rich and poor.

And the host country did all it could to display its arrogance, wealth, power, and resources. I read dozens of news dispatches from all over the world, you probably saw them, about the criticism of the host city due to its disorganization, poor news dissemination and housing, many criticisms regarding the way it handled advertising, and the television in which it featured only its athletes.

Those who said we were going to be smashed in football... [pauses] I mean in boxing, never mentioned boxing again. And those who said they were going to sweep us in baseball, never mentioned baseball again.

And I want to tell you a simple anecdote. A rumor had been spread there that I was going to attend the Olympics. I would have of course been very pleased to have been there with you, but you know that the situation is not the best, because one does not even know if a visa would be granted.

A rumor to this effect had spread at the State Department. They were asking whether this was true, because they had to be told in advance and so on. Someone said: Why will he come? To see how we will defeat their baseball team? Those were his actual statements. Someone said this but later mentioned baseball no more.

Our expectations or rather the results failed to match our expectations. We must carefully analyze this. How good was our information, what data did we have, what was the situation? We must also analyze the fact that we failed to realize the competition was tougher, much tougher; and that many countries, which have many resources, put them behind their teams. We must analyze the information we had and so on, as well as our expectations. If we were driven by optimism... [pauses] in general, our sports institution has never been over optimistic, because we have always surpassed our expectations.

On this occasion we lost medals; for example, we lost a medal when Pedroso suffered an accident. The great champion. He would have jumped much higher than this man jumped; I think that it was [words indistinct]. He would have won medal for sure. The accident, because the blow was accidental. These blows can only be received by the courageous ones, by those who do not settle to be 10 points ahead, by those who fight. With Duvergel's we would have collected 10 medals. We won some of them despite the accident [words indistinct].

We gained experience in Atlanta. Our team fought and achieved feats that others did not and could not. This was also the achievement of our trainers and doctors, and of our journalists, whom we must not forget. We must not forget the nearly 300 hours, I cannot recall how many they were at this time, but I think they broadly surpassed the 250-hour mark of television coverage, in addition to radio coverage. The world country that watched more of the Olympics and knows more about the Olympics at this time is indisputably Cuba, because, I repeat, the host country transmitted I think 140 hours of television and 250 hours of advertising. That leaves nothing to watch.

The host country [chuckles] that boasts so much, has been criticized even from the U.S. domestic press, from very serious members of the media, for the way in which publicity in general was handled. There has also been too much commercialization of sports, as I said before. The current leadership of the Olympic movement is to be held responsible for having practically professionalized the (?marathon). In addition, various countries have adopted several measures in the field of sports, for example, in baseball. However, what our female volleyball players did shows that we can win. Even if they introduce professional players, we are going to win, and we are going to win, home run after home run. Actually, we won most of the events in these games, and I mean this. This shows we can defeat them even if they bring whatever they want to bring in.

They prepared a super team, and they super trained them. At the end, we remained undefeated, in spite of the money they spent and the violations they committed in order to take away from us the athletes we needed in those competitions. We will show that it can be done, in spite of all those circumstances. However, it is not enough to have goodwill. We must think over about all of these factors, we must meditate deeply in an intelligent manner about the Atlanta games and think about how the other games will be. We must analyze why we are weak in some sports. How does our system of training athletes operate?

Perhaps we are conceited and we think that our system is very good, but our system requires some modifications. In what proportion are we practicing sports? Why are some of them not practiced? Because... [pauses] well, how many pools do we have? Sometimes, these pools have even been without chlorine. How do we use them? How do we use the few tennis courts that we have? Why could we not win some medal in tennis also?

We have to analyze what is happening with the long distance races, and even with the fast races. Where have we stayed behind? We must analyze all of the work done by the institutions of sports, all of the work of the various branches of our sports; how are they working, what do we need to do? Because I think we can do more, much more, and if necessary, even in Ping-Pong. It is no longer that difficult for a Cuban to qualify for a Ping-Pong competition. I think we have to think this over, we have to deeply think over about everything we do in sports, and how we are doing, and what we can improve so that we will win more medals all of the time, even if there are more countries participating and even if the countries spend much more money all the time.

There will always be arguments. For example, if there is such and such a thing; if Ana Fidelia was thinking about the Motola woman or Motorola...[pauses] I do not know what her name is. [Someone says Maria Motola; Fidel chuckles] It seems as if the entire competition was only with her. Nonetheless, she made a very wise, emotional statement to the press. She said that she had warned that one should not ignore the two Russian women, that they worked in pairs to put obstacles... [pause] so that one would help the other.

Then, others say that even if Duvergel had the lead he should have been more careful. However, we must not criticize the courageous one. I say that was a coincidence. But those are just a few. In general, the people felt he was going to win the match. He was superior all around, and when he again meets his rival somewhere, this gentleman is not going to make it. The difference will be even greater.

We will always find that there are various opinions. However, above all what prevails here is admiration for all of you. There is a feeling of recognition for our Olympic delegation; we are proud of your achievements. You provided us with great satisfaction with the victories you achieved in key sports and which we all appreciate very much. A defeat in baseball would have been terribly bitter, the same goes for women's volleyball. We achieved victory, struggling mercilessly with an unsurpassable dignity. The people feel recognition, gratitude; there is a feeling of emotion that is very great and unforgettable about what you did in these Olympics right there, yes, right there where you did it. And what can we say about the many decent persons who at times applauded our teams? They applauded our athletes because their quality inspired them with admiration for what you accomplished.

I am going to end now. There are no more clouds or shadows looming around, and I want to express the pride of our country for what you have done. I want to voice our gratitude and promise that with or without the special period, regardless, because these are the Olympics we attended during the special period when we have lacked so many resources, the country will continue struggling so that we may continue to have more and more glory in sports for the fatherland, so that we may continue to have more and more happiness for you and for our people.

Socialism or death! Fatherland or death! We will win! [applause]
 

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