The Story of the Best Volleyball Team in Olympic History | Arriba Cuba

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Competing at the Olympic Games
requires an absolute sacrifice. For women,
that sacrifice is even bigger. I sacrificed everything
for 12 straight years. (ARRIBA CUBA:
LAS MORENAS DEL CARIBE) The story of “The Caribbean
Girls” is, without a doubt, one of the most compelling
in Cuban Olympic history. In 1978, at the
World Championship, playing against Japan, the so-called
“Oriental Witches” were defeated by the Cuban team which became known as
“The Caribbean Girls”. That victory became such
a sensation that Cuba’s revolutionary leader,
Fidel Castro, gave the team full
governmental support. Thanks to our political system,
which is our main sponsor, allowed us to focus
on achieving our goal. “The Caribbean Girls” became
more than a team – a legend was being forged, a symbol that went
beyond volleyball. We won our first Games
in Barcelona ’92. Cuba hadn’t participated in
Los Angeles ’84 and Seoul ’88, so our generation was
really eager to win medals and we did everything
we could to win. Our motivation for winning
was our country. Cubans love sports, and our victories brought joy
to our people. Our commitment, other than to
our families and our country, was to the leader
of the Revolution. He always fought for us,
to make us better. He would ask what our goal was
and we would reply “winning”, because we represent
the Cuban people. Some people might not
understand it, but those living in Cuba
in those difficult years can understand it very well. The people needed
some sort of joy – that was our motivation
at that time. They needed it. In Atlanta,
the team was more mature – there were some changes
but we had a strong foundation. There was a hair salon
inside the Olympic village. We all wanted to look
good for the cameras because the Games were
televised. We wanted to have good hair. We became distracted, and we lost our focus. Our coach got really angry. He said that wasn’t normal and that he’d lost hope
that we’d win gold. That made us worry. The Brazilians had
prepared very well. They knew our weaknesses, and were there to win
the gold medal. It is well known
what went down. That match became more
important than the final. 20 years later,
people still talk about it. It was a very tough match
because they were so close. In the end we won and went on to play
the final against China. Imagine, both teams
wanted the medal, the Brazilians weren’t happy,
a fight broke out. But in the end,
we won a spectacular match, a beautiful
and tightly contested match. After the game against Brazil,
we were very excited. Our coach became worried. The Olympic Games
were not over yet, we still have to play
against China which is as good as Brazil
and could beat us. When you sacrifice so much and achieve as much as we did, it tastes like glory. It’s worth all the sacrifices
as a teenager and as a woman. I’d do it again. Some people think that
athletes’ lives are easy, but they aren’t. I didn’t have the chance
to become a mother, but I’ve achieved other things, which would’ve been difficult
to accomplish if I had chosen to become a mother, because
I would’ve lost valuable time. You owe yourself to the team. Getting pregnant was
a big responsibility. You can’t damage the team.
All of that must be sacrificed. The sport goes first. “The Caribbean Girls”
represented women of the third world in
developing countries as well as Cuban women. Simple women, of very humble
origins, almost all were black. We represent the strength
of Cuban women. We were the face of
Cuba abroad. We were the ambassadors
of Cuba. They are a symbol for Cuba. They brought international
prestige to Cuban sports and to Cuban women. We became role models
as women and as a team. My team was known to
have strong women. We played aggressively. We were very temperamental,
moody, nobody liked to lose. Those two things combined
were explosive. Cuban women have always been
aggressive and feisty. That aggressiveness was
necessary because there were great teams that pushed us
to the limit on every game, so we had to be aggressive. When they looked at my face,
without me saying a word, they’d realise
they couldn’t beat me. I try to teach my athletes
that same aggressiveness, the perseverance
and fighting spirit that we had on the court. The aggressiveness in the jump,
the power of the attack… Those were concepts
shared by all of us and we try to pass that on
to the new generations. Eugenio George, our coach,
was like a father to us. He trained us to play hard but also taught us
to be feminine. We played like men, but after
the game we were ourselves. Feminine, modest, fragile,
delicate, with many virtues. Despite the toughness
of training, you have to preserve your
essence as a woman. He taught us how to
project our femininity, how to wear make-up,
how to dress, even how to walk. He made us read so we could
express ourselves better. He wanted us to dress up
and be elegant, so we’d go around
turning heads. He wanted people to
notice the Cuban team. We owe so much to that great
man, because he made us what we are, what we were. Our coach used to say that we defended our country
in the trenches of sport. By defending our colours, respecting each other, looking after yourself,
as a human being, as a woman. We are like family – that’s what Eugenio taught us. Every now and then
we all get together, we are always connected. We always find a way to gather
“The Caribbean Girls” from the first to the last. – Victory!
– Cuba! (RUSSIAN FEDERATION, SET POINT) From Sydney 2000, many people remember the match
against Russia because we were down
after two sets. The first two sets were intense
for both teams, but we got back in the game, due to our superior athletic
conditioning. By the fifth set,
the Russians were tired. It was my turn to serve. The ball bounced back. I passed it to Taymaris Agüero. She passed it to Regla. I can’t even explain the rest. I get very emotional
talking about it. I came to know each one
of them so deeply. I dreamt of them. I cried and laughed with them. There are no words to
describe everything I felt
as captain of that team. That team,
“The Caribbean Girls”, should live in the hearts of all those who love
volleyball. We just want to be remembered
as “The Caribbean Girls” – as the great champions
we became. (CUBA, GOLD – VOLLEYBALL WOMEN)

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