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This door is open to everyone – women as well as men. The Gimnasio Rafael Trejo attracts six-yearold boys from the neighbourhood just the same as globetrotters ten times their age with a second lease of life. For everyone there is golden wisdom among rusty iron rods, free of charge. It’s the recipe for the success of the Cuban boxing fairy tale: many boxers, many bouts, lots of experience, lots of knowledge. “We have a huge potential,” says 64-year-old Nardo Mestre Flores, now back in his homeland after being on the national team in the 1960s, later coaching in Chile, Mexico, Yemen. Cuba’s boxers are a major export – a rough trade, if you will. Nowhere else is the sport is so effortlessly and playfully imparted as it is here. For decades, along with cigars and rum, boxing has formed the triad of the Cuban quality promise. Armando Martinez and José Gomez also stand for quality. In 1980 both came back with a gold medal from the Olympic Games in Moscow. Today they sweat in Cotorro, barely an hour’s drive from Havana, in a large stone building with a boxing ring under a tin roof. The sun heats the air to more than 40 degrees Celsius. Twenty boxing students exercise their abdominal muscles on the uneven ground of a ring that seems to have come from another time. “The Seventies and Eighties were the best period for Cuban boxing,” says Martinez. Why? “There was more love for boxing.” “A lot has changed,” says José Gomez. The political system is no longer the same today. Even the United States has since begun to maintain relations with its former archenemy; American tourists flood the country. It’s harvest season for Cuban tourism. Of late the prices of hotel rooms have increased by more than one hundred percent. In a poor country even amateur sports could lose their appeal in the whirlwind of monetary possibilities. But the pure love of the fist still reigns supreme. Félix Savón tells how he thrashed branches for the lack of coaching assistance. Today students in Cotorro skip over a rope that isn’t there – shadow jump-roping. The Cuban youth breathe boxing, even if soccer is starting to steal the talents from the number-one sport, as coach Alberto Gonzalez complains. “Boxing trains you for life, you learn to be a role model,” says Gomez the Olympic champion. For him and the countless boxers in Havana, Cotorro and myriad backyard boxing clubs spread out all over the country, boxing continues to be the center of life. First the ring, then comes everything else. Part of the training group in Cotorro came together outside of the oven to form a private security service – the alternative to the Olympics. Very few make it to the elite forge known as EIDE (Escuelas de iniciación deportiva), the beginning of a strict physical education, at the end of which is appointment to the national squad. Albert González, the 14-year-old son of coach Alberto González, has managed the first big step. In his age group he is Havana’s best. A French filmmaker has already accompanied him for a documentary about young, exceptionally skilled athletes. Albert is right at the very beginning, but it’s already hard. Six times a week he goes for training at five o’clock in the morning; he only has Sundays off – in theory. Today is Sunday, and he’s in the ring. When he laughs, it’s reminiscent of the actor Will Smith as a young man, and when he boxes, it’s reminiscent of much of what constitutes Cuban boxing. His father thinks he is very fast. “Cuban boxers smell fear,” the US heavyweight champion Michael Bentt once said. González the teenager sniffs his chance. His goal? The Olympics, clearly. “For Cuba’s boxers only Olympic victory counts,” says his father Alberto. The games in Rio are a little too soon. Others are there to enhance Cuba’s medal statistics. Erislandy Savón is competing in the heavyweight division. He comes from a small village in Guantánamo. He’s the nephew of Félix Savón, the people’s hero. T A Cuba’s quality triad: Rum, cigars, boxing. Cuba’s boxers are the country’s rough trade, if you will. Albert González, 14 Trained by the best


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