Sat, 16 Jan 2021

by Yosley Carrero

HAVANA, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- Yumilka Ruiz, two-time Olympic champion as a member of Cuba's women volleyball team, works as a professor at Havana's University of Sports.

After retiring, she could have moved away from sports; instead, she decided to return to the university for graduate courses and continue to be useful during her "second life", a common phrase among local athletes to refer to retirement.

The 42-year-old, who is also part of a regional work commission of the International Olympic Committee, is a doctoral student at the university at the moment.

"I strongly believe that by working hard from this institution, we can actually help more Cuban athletes participate in the Olympics in the future," she said. "This center provides elite athletes with scientific knowledge they need to better perform at international competitions and, especially, the Olympics."

Ruiz, who won golds at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, as well as a bronze at Athens 2004 and fourth place at Beijing 2008, now inspires elite athletes eager to reach their Olympic dreams at Tokyo 2020 set for July 23-August 8, 2021.

Among them is Cuba's Pan-American freestyle wrestling champion Alejandro Valdes, who embarked on sports practice at the age of six and graduated from this university in 2013.

Valdes, along with other elite athletes from the Caribbean island, was taken outside Havana to continue preparing for Tokyo 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Cuban capital.

"I participated in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games but was not able to win a medal," said the 32-year-old. "But after four years, I have gained maturity and strength for an Olympic gold."

According to sports authorities on the island, more than 80 percent of Cuban Olympic champions have graduated from Havana's University of Sports.

Silvano Merced, the president of the university, said it is very positive for students and professors that Olympic glories and athletes give talks at the academic center.

"We are strengthening links with the Cuban Olympic Committee to better use scientific research to improve our athletes' performance," he said. "We are devoting all of our efforts to take sports practice on the island to the next level."

Currently about 4,000 students are enrolled at the sports university, which is due to start the new academic year in February 2021.

First-year-student Abraham Conde practised judo until the age of 16, but was not lucky enough to make it to the elite team. Still, he would love to train children and adolescents and help them become world and Olympic champions.

"I want to promote sports practise among younger generations," he said. "In Cuba, people are instilled into sports values since early ages. That's why we are such a sports power."

Since its debut at the Paris 1900 Games, Cuba has won 226 medals, ranking first among the Latin American and Caribbean countries and regions in Olympic history.

The island's best performance ever took place during Barcelona 1992 Olympics where it placed fifth in the overall medal count.

With a population of about 11 million people, Cuba is expected to win around 20 medals at the Tokyo Olympic Games, with major opportunities in wrestling, judo, boxing and track and field.

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