A year after the country approved the presence of female boxers in pre-Olympic competitions, Cuba has invited two boxers, likely to be the national champions Legnis Calá (57 kg) and Yakelin Stornell (66 kg), to the event in Italy in February. Two places for Paris 2024 are at stake.
Cuba, a global boxing powerhouse, has allowed the participation of female boxers to compete in pre-Olympic competitions in 2022. Until then, women were banned from boxing. Now that the ban has been lifted, the authorities will send two boxers to the February event in Italy, where two spots for the 2024 Paris Olympics will be up for grabs.
“The idea we have is to take two athletes to the Olympic qualifiers in Italy,” said the head of Cuban women’s boxing, Santiago Suárez, at the Rafael Trejo Hall in Havana, which hosted the first four-day national women’s boxing tournament. There, Suárez revealed that the two national champions with the best chance of qualifying are Legnis Calá (57 kg), silver medallist at the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games in San Salvador, and Yakelin Stornell (66 kg), who won bronze in the Salvadoran capital but in the 75 kg category.
It is not yet decided, but it is clear that they are in the best position to make boxing history in their country. According to the coach, the two selected boxers will leave for a training camp in Germany on 14 February and then travel to Italy, where the qualifying event will be held between 29 February and 12 March. It will be a historic occasion for Cuba to take part in a pre-Olympic event and then, if they qualify for the Olympic Games. In Italy, 124 boxers from different countries will be competing.
Thirty-six women took part in the championship held in Cuba, the first to be held after the lifting of the ban on women’s boxing. In the men’s category, the country has 80 world titles and 41 Olympic titles. Now it is time for women’s boxing. The aim of the national tournament was to assess the potential of 12 boxers in six Olympic divisions (50, 54, 57, 60, 66 and 75kg).
“Anything can happen in the ring,” said Legnis Calá before her quarter-final fight against Venezuela’s Omailyn Alcalá in the women’s -57kg category at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago. These words were reported by the official website of the Olympic Games, as the Cuban boxer was set to make history. Legnis Cala could have achieved the historic qualification for Paris 2024, something that has never happened before in Cuba. She wasn’t the favourite, but she was close.
Legnis Calá could have become Cuba’s first female boxer at the Games. Instead, she fell short after losing a hard-fought unanimous decision to Venezuela’s Omailyn Alcalá. Now she has another chance, as she can secure one of the two places available in Italy.
By Marcos Menocal Pareja
Frederick Marfo is a sportswriter and social worker well known for his advocacy for equal chances and rights for all athletes, especially those with disabilities.