Cuba, once a regional sporting powerhouse, is predicting its worst ever medal count at the upcoming 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
A confluence of factors including economic crisis, athlete defections, reduced delegation size and key absences have severely diminished Cuba’s medal ambitions.
Cuba has historically performed very well at the Pan American Games, topping the medal table on many occasions.
At the 1991 Havana Games, Cuba won a record 265 medals including 140 golds. Even in recent editions like Lima 2019 and Toronto 2015, Cuba still managed hauls of 100 and 97 golds respectively.
Key Reasons for Decline
Cuba is mired in its worst economic crisis in almost 30 years due to tightened US sanctions and loss of aid from Venezuela.
Lack of resources and funding has hampered athlete training and preparation across sports. Sports facilities and equipment have suffered from disrepair and lack of maintenance.
Many top Cuban athletes and coaches have fled the country in recent years seeking better opportunities and pay abroad.Cuban Volleyball Star Regla Torres Speaks Out Against INDER
In 2022 alone, a record 109 athletes defected from Cuba’s national teams. Another 78 athletes have left in 2023 so far. This exodus has stripped Cuba of many potential medalists.
Cuba is sending only 362 athletes to Santiago 2023, down almost 14% from the size of its delegation at Lima 2019. Fewer participants inevitably means fewer medal opportunities across events.
Medal Forecast and Expectations
Given the adverse circumstances, Cuban sports officials have set modest targets for Santiago.
They forecast a haul of just 18-22 gold medals, 8-12 silvers and 36-40 bronzes. This would be Cuba’s lowest gold medal count in over 50 years of Pan American competition.
Cuba is still relying on stalwarts like wrestling, boxing, judo and canoeing to deliver medals. In cycling, Arlenis Sierra is tipped to claim road race gold. But officials acknowledge Cuba’s showing will be its “most discreet” ever.
Impact on Olympic Hopes
Cuban officials will look to use the Pan Ams to directly qualify athletes for Paris 2024 in boxing and shooting. But the loss of top talent could hamper Cuba’s aspirations to improve on its four-medal showing at Tokyo 2020.
Dogged by economic woes and defections, Cuban sport is a shadow of its former self.Diana Nyad’s Legendary Swim: From Cuba to Florida at Age 64 Inspiring a Netflix Film a Decade Later
While some veteran athletes should still shine, Cuba’s era of Pan American dominance appears to be over. The Santiago Games look set to mark a new low point on the international stage.