Let the games begin

8 Aug

 

Excitement is in the air in Havana—it’s Carnaval season (read: yet another excuse for Cubans to get drunk and party), you can buy Nestle’s seasonal mango sorbet in stores, and the entire country is glued to their television sets cheering their compatriots on in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

When I say that the entire country is glued to their t.v. screens, I’m not saying they’re glued with Elmer’s non-toxic school kid paste—they’ve pulled out the Gorilla Glue and have used it to firmly stick themselves to the 24 hour Olympic coverage on Tele Rebelde.

It had never occurred to me until I started watching the Olympics in Cuba that I had actually never seen a Cuban competing on the Olympics before. Granted, I’ve never watched the Olympics particularly religiously, but in the past games I remember seeing competitors from the U.S., China, Russia, Brazil, Jamaica, and a handful of African countries, but never any representatives from our neighbor to the south. (note: Again, I’ve never paid close attention to the games or watched very many of them, so I’m not saying that U.S. coverage completely edits Cuba out, I just personally don’t ever remember seeing Cubans in any of the events I actually watched).

In Cuba though, there is no choice but to watch the Olympics with a religious fervor, idolizing and cheering for the Cuban competitors like they’re your own brothers and sisters, and discuss this year’s events with all of your friends and family, whoever is fixing your batido, or maybe whoever is driving your cab.

You can watch the Olympics live on Tele Rebelde, or, if you didn’t skip work to watch the day’s events, you can watch the replays later in the evening (or the middle of the night). The coverage is literally non-stop, and some Cubans will wake up at four or five in the morning to start watching it.

The footage of the games is interspersed with interviews and footage of the players, their families, their fans and men on the street, as well as round-table commentaries about this year’s competition. And trust me, everyone has an opinion about the games. During Olympic season, all other topics of conversation take a back seat. Run into a friend you haven’t seen in a while? After the cursory “Hola, que vola?” all you will talk about is how many medals Cuba has won so far, whether or not you saw a Cuban perform during a particular event, and a play-by-play rehash of how he/she did.

The Cuban competitors are national celebrities and a source of great pride to the Cubans. They’re trained in the national sports academies and are the darlings of the entire nation. Where I only know a handful of the notable U.S. Olympians, most Cubans know the name, approximate age, and resume of most of the competitors, from female pole vaulter Yarelis Barrios to male sharpshooter Leuris Pupo (I couldn’t name the U.S. female pole vaulter or a U.S. male sharpshooter if old Leuris held a gun to my head).

Suffice it to say, I’m impressed, inspired, and a little bit jealous about how unifying the Olympic games are for Cubans. Sure, I know that there are plenty of people in the U.S. who are equally obsessed with the Olympics and are cheering on all of our athletes, but unlike Cuba, those fans aren’t almost every person in the country.

Cubans are proud of their country and proud of their citizens and it especially shows during the Olympics. Maybe because of socialism, every medal won by a Cuban is a personal victory, not just for the athlete who won it, but also for everyone in the country.

The Olympics fall at a perfect time for Cubans to drop everything and spend two-and-a-half weeks watching them. It’s soul-crushingly hot outside right now, and posting up out of the sun and in front of a fan to watch someone else exert themselves is a much more attractive option than braving the Caribbean summer.

Don’t worry, once the Olympics ends Tele Rebelde won’t be out of riveting coverage— baseball caps are being brushed off in preparation for the Baseball World Classic and soccer jerseys are already being readied for the World Cup. Cubans love sports and don’t just wait once every four years to show it.

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