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Cubas rivals hope the superpower of Olympic boxing will be vulnerable
Boxers from the Caribbean island, banned from turning professional and told to concentrate on serving the communist regime, won five of 11 gold medals four years ago in Athens.

Their dominance could suffer, however, with more and more fleeing to join foreign-based promoters and none of their five champions returning to defend their titles.

Yan Barthelemy, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis defected in 2006 while Guillermo Rigondeaux was dropped from the squad after attempting to do so.

Also missing will be Mario Kindelan, who retired after defeating Britain's Amir Khan in the lightweight final in Athens.

As a result, Cuba, which skipped last year's world championships in Chicago in fear of more defections, will enter its least-experienced squad in many years in the August 9-24 boxing tournament.
That does not mean a country which has won 32 of their 65 Olympic gold medals inside the ring and produced such great names as Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon should be ruled out.

A seemingly inexhaustible breeding ground for talented fighters, Cuba will rely on a 10-man squad including 2005 world lightweight champion Yordenis Ugas and five champions from the 2007 Pan-American Games.

"We have enough boxers for one, two or three teams," Cuba's boxing coach Pedro Roque told reporters. "The defections don't affect us at all."

It remains to be seen, however, how his young team will fare against one of the strongest fields seen at Olympics.

Cuba's traditional rivals, Russia have medal contenders in every weight class while other countries such as the United States, eager to redeem themselves after lean years, or emerging forces like Britain also have the right to be ambitious.

"Everybody works the same as the Cubans, everybody here's the same," said American world flyweight champion Rau'shee Warren. "They've all come to represent their country, the same as me.

Another hint Cuba were no longer regarded as awe-inspiring opponents came from US team coach Dan Campbell, who did not even name them as the ones to beat.

"The Russians are the top team out there," he said.


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