The Cuban women’s volleyball team was number one in Latin America for three decades, taking numerous high profile titles at top international events.
Known as Las Morenas del Caribe the team was headed by stars like Mireya Luis and Regla Torres, who was named best player of the twentieth century by the International Volleyball Federation.
Three Olympic golds at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 put the team, led by outstanding coach Eugenio George and by Luis Felipe Calderón, among the vanguard of the global sporting world.
Today the team’s performance is a far cry from those days of glory. The development of women’s volleyball in Cuba has been hindered for many different reasons but the Cuban Federation’s leadership is looking for ways to lift the women’s team back to stellar heights, with new players who show promise and ambition but are still very young.
Omelio Castillo, Technical Chief of the Cuban Federation, told CubaPlus that their hopes are focused on taking a competitive Cuban women’s team to the Olympics once again in the run up to Tokyo 2020.
“We know the current situation is complex, but we’ve got a long-term plan in place, working with girls aged between sixteen and twenty,” he said, adding that “the first steps in 2018 are the Central American & Caribbean Games then the World Championships in Japan. Some of the more experienced players will also lend their support. It’ll be a cycle of recruitment and training over four to six years.”
Castillo explained that in looking for new strategies, he is insisting on modern forms of training “that simulate gameplay situations.”
“This is something that has changed from the point of view of methodology,” he explains. “The only competitive event these athletes get is the national championship. At the moment only two of our players play professionally, in Peru. It may be possible to integrate more of our players into pro leagues in the region. Over here competitions are scarce, there are never enough.”
Getting more athletes onto teams abroad is on the agenda for Cuban sports, and sports directorates are evaluating the benefits of these professional events that could guarantee a fuller development for the new generations of athletes.
“For us, it’s vital that they play, so we demand regularity and protection in all the senses from our players. That they learn about life and grow as people is a principle mission, that’s how the essence of the Cuban sports system is designed”, says Castillo.
“Various international clubs have approached us expressing interest in some of the players,” he continued. “We know the financial side is important too but the priority should be the national team. We’re continually assessing this option, because the international competition system is well established and if you don’t join in, you don’t play.”
The situation is different in men’s volleyball, where it is quicker and easier to form new squads.
Despite some setbacks, including non sports related problems, the men have managed to regroup and compete on the international circuit reaching the podium at junior international competitions.
“With the boys, we have a lack of high level players coming through, which has meant they’ve been forced to compete at their fullest with a lot demanded of them. Neverthless, this has worked as an alternative way of developing the under-23s who form the base for the older selection.”
“In the past few years, various male athletes have been playing in Europe,” he explained, “And contracts in South America on top of that have allowed us to grow with immediate results.”
The future of Cuban volleyball, particularly women’s volleyball, lies in establishing a rigorous training schedule with the capacity to make the most of the potential among the new cohort, helping them to master the technical and tactical elements they’ll need with a view to the Paris-2024 Olympic qualifying period.