The Cuban boxing team at the 2012 London Olympics is led by a talented young contingent of potential stars. It's an exciting group, but it's also a change of pace, as Cuba is typically backed by a veteran core of returning Olympic medalists.
The Cuban squad has eight of a possible 10 team members, including two or three prohibitive gold medal favorites, with Julio Cesar la Cruz at Light Heavyweight, Yasniel Toledo at Lightweight and Lazaro Alvarez at Bantamweight. The entire team has gotten off to a blazing start, and even some of the lesser known names have dazzled.
Clearly the team is quite good, and looks set to bring home a very nice medal haul. But imagine what the Cuban Olympic boxing roster would look like without the string of defectors which depleted their ranks over the past few years.
Just consider the names of a few of the top flight Cuban professional boxers right now - Guillermo Rigondeaux and Yuriorkis Gamboa are both undefeated and ranked in the top 15 Pound for Pound; Erislandy Lara is arguably the number 1 guy at Junior Middleweight; and Odlanier Solis is a player in the Heavyweight division.
Rigondeaux, already one of the best amateur boxers in history, would likely he going for his 4th gold medal at London had he not defected. As a Bantamweight, his presence would require some adjustments with the roster, but would only make the team stronger as a whole.
Yuriorkis Gamboa could be going for his 3rd gold medal, and with his skills he could potentially be slotted on the roster anywhere from Flyweight to Light Welterweight at this point of his career. Yan Barthelemy, who defected with Gamboa after also winning a gold in 2004, would give the Cubans a leading contender for a Light Flyweight gold medal in London.
Former amateur World Champion Erislandy Lara would fill the vacant Welterweight position on the team, and give the Cuban boxing squad another gold medal favorite.
Solis would surely have beaten out the competition at either Heavyweight or Super Heavyweight, and could be seeking a third straight gold to match the record of Cuban legends Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon.
All told, you'd be adding five potential gold medal favorites to a team which already has 3 of them. Even if one or two guys got left off the squad due to competing in the same divisions, you'd still be looking at a ridiculous medal haul, and a historic performance from the Cuban Olympic boxing team had it not been for all of those defections.
Sources: AIBA.org, NBC Olympics Coverage, ProBoxing-Fans.com
More from this contributor:
Jake Emen runs the boxing news website ProBoxing-Fans.com. You can find more of his writing, including a complete guide to the London 2012 Olympic Boxing competition, as well as exclusive stories and special features on the Games at the site.
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