By positioning tiny Cuba on the map of world sports, not only did Fidel carve an image of greatness for his country, but also one that distinguished Cuba from both its supporters (USSR) and its enemies (USA). Sports – particularly boxing – have been a remarkable vehicle for achieving this goal. Given Cuba’s size, who wouldn’t be surprised by the impressive number of Olympic boxing medals Cubans have won? How did this small country achieve such athletic prowess?
In the footsteps of the Soviet Union’s sport successes, Castro laid down policies that in time produced extraordinary results. A carefully designed program was implemented to increase mass participation in sports and create healthier living standards. With a boxing elite academy in each of its fourteen provinces, every Cuban child is guaranteed access to the sport. By identifying talent at a young age, and nurturing it through methodical practice, Cuban coaches can then push their young citizens to Olympic greatness.
Update: The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were the first time since 1968 that Cuba did not win a gold medal in boxing, though it did win four silver and four bronze medals.
Sources: International Olympic Committee; Newsweek; International Boxing Hall of Fame