The Return of the Spectacular Caribbean Mulato Girls
By Héctor Miranda, Photos Prensa Latina
When the Cuban women's volleyball team defeated Brazil 3-2 in the final of the recent Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, they revived the belief of their fans who dreamt of their return to glory that they had a decade ago when they were known as the "Spectacular Caribbean Mulatto Girls."
When the team finally carne together, the Cuban girls showed what they were capable of for the first time in 1978 when they won the World Championship in what is today known as Saint Peters burg, Russia. Led by trainer Eugenio George, the Cubans ended the long time rule of the Japanese team, known until then as the "Magical Girls from the Orient," but they were stopped right there. Players like Mercedes Pérez, Mercedes Pomares, Lucilla Urgellés, Nelly Bamet, Ana María García, and Imilsis Téllez could not climb the podium at the Olympics in Moscow and left a gap that another generation of players would have to close later on.
Cuba was absent at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988 but returned to Barcelona 1992 with a team full of talent and a fierce desire to win. Coached by Eugenio George and Antonio Perdomo, the experienced and ambitious team consisted of Mireya Luis, Magaly Carvajal, Regla Bell, Mercedes Calderón, Josefina Ofarril, and Lily Izquierdo. They were joined by the promising Regla Torres, a middle hitter who would make history in the years to come.
About this team, Mireya Luis, the indisputable world volleyball star, some years later said: "We were a family. An ambitious family that dreamt of winning it all and that never thought it was impossible. We would get on the court to have fun. To have fun we knew we had to win and we were convinced of winning even when sometimes we started the game be hin d. That was a great team."
What happened in Barcelona was just the beginning and they were joined for Atlanta 1996 - now coached by Antonio Perdomo- by Ana Ibis Femández, Idalmis Gato, and Marlenis Costa. The second gold medal arrived in Atlanta and another in Sydney 2000 with Regla Torres being declared Best Player of the 20th Century by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).
Some other players were cast as rising new stars such as Yumilka Ruiz and Zoila Barros. They started their joumey with the return of Eugenio George, who was declared the best coach of the 20th Century by the FIVB and who was the main catalyst of all the Cuban team's triumphs.
To those three Olympic prizes in the 90's, the Cuban team added two World Championships in Brazil 1994 and Japan 1998.
There are not many teams that could collect so many trophies in a 1 O year period and give so much joy to their fans but all good things must come to an end. The retirement of some of the best stars initiated the decline of the powerful Cuban team and they had to resign themselves with a third place finish at the Athens 2004 competition.
George ended his term as head coach and was replaced by Luis Felipe Calderón, although he still remained on the coaching team. So began are building period that brought its first results during the recent Pan American Games.
In Río de Janeiro, Antonio Perdomo returned as the team coach and was assisted by George. Players Rosir Calderón, Nancy Carrillo, and Daymí Ramírez started to shine and the team, and their fans, look forward to more glory at the Beijin Games in 2008.