Saturday, September 26, 2020

Cubans: the messieurs of Botswana sports

It has been ten years since the first arrival of the contingent of Cuban sports experts. When they arrived, they were in the fields of athletics, boxing and volleyball. Now their expertise has been extended to basketball and medical fields such as sports doctor and physiotherapist.
Since their arrival, Botswana teams improved at international level. Even the code name ‘the whipping teams of the Southern African region’ is slowly fading out. The Cubans are seen as the engineers of such drastic improvement.
Botswana’s major achievements under the Cubans started way back in 2000 Sydney Olympics. That was the time when local middle distance runner, Glody Dube, made a historic qualification for the 400m finals. Although he finished seventh, it was an improvement since, in the past, we used to be eliminated in the heats. Two years latter, Botswana was in even joyous celebrations at the Manchester Commonwealth games. Two local sports men, Gable Garenamotse, a long jumper, and Lechedzani Luza, a boxer, went into our history books by winning silver medals. In 2005, Botswana volleyball teams also made history in the Zone VI tournament. Both the men and women teams won at that tournament after edging out powerful regional super houses like Lesotho.
Kitso Kemoeng, the Executive Secretary of the Botswana National Sports Council, views the achievements as a result of the Cubans’ assistance.
“As you might be aware, Cuba is a force to reckon with in boxing, basketball, volleyball and field events,” Kemoeng said. “After our government got into agreements with Cuba in those fields, there has been a tremendous improvement, and everybody can see it. In the region our boxing team used to be unimpressive, but currently we always gun for honours. Even volleyball is a typical example, our country gives those nations that used to trouble us a torrid time.”
Kemoeng added that the basketball experts only arrived in 2005, but results are already cropping up. He conceded that the basketball senior teams are still not performing to the desired standard but the junior ones are making their mark in regional schools competitions.
Kemoeng also added that bringing in a Cuban sports doctor and a physiotherapist had helped a lot. He said when international games approach, the government no longer needs to book a doctor from Princess Marina but utilises the services of the Cubans. Kemoeng said the doctors from Marina were not even a guarantee to accompany the teams to the games.
The Public Relations Officer of the Botswana Athletics Association (BAA), Ipolokeng Ramatshaba, echoed Kemoeng’s words. He said that even though they are currently waiting for another Cuban expert to replace one who departed recently, BAA has learned a lot. Ramatshaba said Pablo Diaz brought a lot of changes in athletics and the current good results are mainly because of him.
“Where ever that Cuban man is, I would like to say thank you. He did a lot for this country in the field events. We have high jump champions like Kabelo Mmono and Kabelo Kgosiemang. They are achieving a lot because of Diaz. Diaz even contributed a great deal to Garenamotse, who is a two time Commonwealth silver medalist,” he said.
Ramatshaba added that even though Diaz was more of a field events person he also contributed a lot in the track events. Ramatshaba stressed that the once powerful 4×400 m relay, led by the likes of Tobokane Mosetlha, were his immediate products. He said Diaz also had his fingerprints in another powerful Botswana relay team that qualified for 2004 Sydney Olympics finals.
Technical officer of the Botswana Amateur Boxing Association, Healer Modiradilo, said if Cubans input were invaluable, they would not have lobbied for the return of Leonel Raimundo Viciendo Dominguez. Modiradilo said Dominguez played a vital role in the achievements of local boxers. Healer emphasised that Dominguez is not only a coach for boxers, but also trains coaches.
“Dominguez was one of the first Cuban experts to arrive in the country. He then achieved a lot in a short period of time. By the time he went back, we felt like we still needed his services to produce more coaches. He is now back and conducts coaching courses all over the country and even trains the boxers. We are achieving a lot in regional games because of him,” he said.
Modiradilo added that among the technical areas Dominguez covers is the identification of both the players and coaches for the national team.

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