Pan-American Games: Cuban anger at `dirty tricks'

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The Independent Online
AWAY FROM the track and gym at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, the Cubans have been unhappy about the amount of attention which has been focused on politics, including possible desertions.

Bad feeling began when a local newspaper published a step-by-step guide on how to defect in Canada. United States and Cuban rivalry may also have been at play when the American wrestler Les Gutches began mocking his Cuban opponent, Yoel Romero, after winning a preliminary bout in the 85kg category.

"He started beating on the back of Romero like he was playing the drums," a Reuters photographer said. Gutches then raised his arms in front of his opponent.

The delegation's predicament brought comments from the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, who accused organisers of "tricks". Castro complained that at the last minute organisers had removed more than 100 gold medal events from the games, in most of which Cuba was traditionally strong. He claimed the move was intended to benefit Cuba's two biggest rivals, Canada and the United States.

"We have never seen such tricks and such dirtiness in a Pan American competition ... and all to harm Cuba, to displace Cuba from second place, to benefit the host nation and to reduce the merit of our sportsmen," Castro said.

Brian Koshul, spokesman for the organising committee, declined to comment on Castro's speech, which was made in Havana, but sympathised with the Cubans. "This obsessive attention to the political side by the media is upsetting to me as well. We have got games going on here. Athletes should be the focus, politics should be left to another day," he said.

The gymnast Eric Lopez collected three more gold medals on Tuesday to take his overall tally to five and bring some relief to the Cuban camp. Lopez's haul made him the leading individual gold medallist at the Games with a total that is unlikely to be overtaken. The 26-year-old won on the pommel horse, rings and parallel bars as he added to the gold medals he picked up in Saturday's team event and Sunday's all-round individual competition.

"It was a win for my country, for Cuba, not just for me," said Lopez, who also won silver in the horizontal bar.

Cuba has not competed in Olympic gymnastics since 1980 but coach Emilio Sagre del Cristo said the team will go to the world championships this autumn to try to qualify for Sydney.

The gymnastics programme ended with Canada claiming three of the four golds in the women's apparatus finals.

In athletics, Emetrio Silva gave Cuba another gold in the men's javelin with a throw of 77.46m. The Brazilian Elenilson Silva won the men's 10,000m while the United States' Lance Deal took his second consecutive hammer gold with a throw of 79.61m.