The athletes were hosted by Hercules Wimbledon Athletics Club, and the trip supported by the Merton branch of the NUT. The group was visiting on a development programme which involved examining the British club structure and cross-country set up. During the one week trip the athletes competed as guests in the East Surrey League Cross Country Relays on Wimbledon Common and the Merton Mini Marathon.
I was lucky enough to see the athletes training at Wimbledon and to speak to some of the athletes. Yosvani Rodriguez Castinallo, from Pinar del Rio showed the strength of the Cuban squad by finishing first in the training session even though his usual discipline is the 3,000 metre hurdles.
"I have been running for 6 years now and my ambition like that of all athletes is to compete in the Olympics."
The athletes also visited local schools in the South London area and joined training sessions with youngsters from Hercules Wimbledon Athletics Club.
The Cuban athletes were from a variety of different disciplines and included the son of world high jump record holder and former Olympic champion Javier Sotomayor – generally regarded as the greatest high jumper of all time. His son, also called Javier, is the Cuban under-17 high jump champion with a personal best of 1.90m.
The Deportiva Giraldo Cordoba Cardin Sports College is one of the premium sports colleges in Latin America, training and educating youngsters from across Cuba, and specialising in 12 Olympic sports – one of the foremost being athletics. The students train for three hours in the morning and then study standard academic subjects in the afternoon. The advanced coaching which young athletes receive at colleges like the Deportiva Giraldo accounts for the technical excellence of so many of the Cuban athletes and the resulting success which they have achieved in recent championships. Cuba, despite being more than five times smaller in population that Britain, has won 20 athletics gold medals at the World Championship and Olympic Games since 1995, compared with the GB total of 11.
The link which Hercules Wimbledon and the NUT have with the Deportiva Giraldo Cordoba Cardin Sports College is now a decade old. During this time there have now been 4 visits of Cuba athletes to the UK, and 5 trips by members of Hercules Wimbledon to Cuba. It is a relationship which the organisers hope to develop further in the future, especially in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics.