HAVANA – Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who died last Friday, is remembered as being passionate about politics but also as an enthusiastic promoter of sports, who actively placed the island’s athletes among the best in Latin America.
As a boy, baseball, basketball and swimming where his favorite sports, and he began promoting them from the time he took power in 1959.
To that end, Fidel Castro set up the National Sports and Physical Education Institute, or Inder, in 1961, the agency in charge of developing the abilities of Cuban athletes, and made sports a signature activity of the revolution he led for almost 50 years.
Among the island’s sports stars were high jumper Javier Sotomayor and runner Ana Fidelia Quirot, who have expressed their thanks to the revolutionary leader for the support he gave them and the legacy he created.
Sotomayor, retired from the sport since 2001 and considered one of the island’s track-and-field legends, said in an interview with EFE that Fidel was a “very inspiring” figure, because “he motivated us and was there every time we won a victory.”
Sotomayor picked up three world records in his successful athletics career and two Olympic medals, at Barcelona in 1992 and Sydney in 2000.
The veteran athlete said it was a “privilege” for many Cubans from poor families to attend the island’s free sports schools and have excellent trainers who allowed Cuba, an island of just 11 million inhabitants, to produce “many champions and approximately 220 Olympic medals.”
Because of that record, he said he now realizes that Fidel Castro “left a legacy that we as Cubans must defend in order to maintain his example and ideals.”
Another famous figure of Cuban sports was runner Ana Fidelia Quirot, who expressed her “gratitude” to the revolutionary leader.
Known in the world of athletics as “the Caribbean Storm,” Quirot twice took gold at the World Championships, came in third in the 800 meters in her first Olympics, the 1992 games in Barcelona, and won a silver medal at the 1996 Athens Olympics.
“I’ll always have a place in my heart for what he represented,” she said about the way Castro “gave me the spirit and the strength” to keep competing after she suffered serious burns in an accident at home – and went on to win the gold medal at the World Championships at Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1996.