If history is weighing heavily on their young shoulders, the Cuban boxing team were not showing it when they strolled around the Andersonstown Leisure Centre.
Following in the footsteps of such greats as Felix Savon, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Mario Kindelan and the late Teofilo Stevenson, the latest generation of Olympic hopefuls have an extra burden to carry as four years ago the golden gravy train came to a halt for the greatest amateur boxing nation.
Winning gold at the Olympics was, for Cuba, accepted as a matter of course but in Beijing they had to settle for four silver and four bronze medals — a tidy total by any standards.
But whether it was Cuban Boxing Association president Alberto Puig or the boxers themselves, gold was the buzzword on their lips in the heart of west Belfast.
Young boxers with their own dreams and veteran coaches alike watched the every move of the ring artists whose balance and footwork even in light sparring was a joy to behold.
One onlooker, ’72 Munich Olympic Irish boxer Jim Montague, had particularly fond memories of watching the Cubans, including the great Savon.
Montague said: “I have a photo of me with Savon and his gold medal at home. I was there watching when he won the first of his three golds in a row and he was just unbelievable.
“We all just watched the Cubans in wonder — their boxing was just something different, something we had never seen before.”
Putting the finishing touches to their preparations for London, the hallmarks of their success were there to see as they went through their routine with a clinical intensity.
President Puig, also the team manager, said: “After Beijing we re-evaluated our boxing programme. We looked at everything, we looked at what we were doing well and what our weaknesses were and we have been working on those weaknesses. This team is much better prepared than the team four years ago.”
Those last words are sure to send a ripple of menace across the amateur boxing landscape.
The average age of this team is 21 and Puig has no doubt they can carry the hopes of a nation with relative ease.
“We have trained very hard,
we have had more sports science in our training.
“All but one of them won gold at the Pan-American Games and they are focused on winning gold.
“Discipline is the secret to Cuban boxing success,” he said.
One of those dreaming of glory is Erislandy Cotilla Savon a cousin of the legendary Felix Savon, and this super-heavyweight is relishing the opportunity of upsetting the odds and wrenching gold from the grasp of Olympic favourite Anthony Joshua of Great Britain.
Giving a clear indication of the discipline spoken of by Puig, 21-year-old Savon (pictured), brought me over to his coach as he had to give the green light for any interview.
“I know that I have a famous name, I have something to live up to and I think it was just natural that I became a boxer,” said Savon, who started boxing when 13.
“I want to win gold for my fam
ily, for my country — it would mean a lot and I think whoever is in my division will be a threat.”
Light-heavyweight Julio Cesar La Cruz is arguably the nation’s best hope of ending their golden pain as he triumphed at last year’s World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.
And the timing seems to be written in the stars as he will turn 23 on August 11, just 24 hours before the 81kg final.
“My hero was Teofilo Stevenson so to win gold a day after my birthday and in honour of Teofilo Stevenson would be incredible. I don’t feel any more pressure because I won gold at the World Championships. I have trained harder, anyone in my division is a threat and I’ll be ready,” he said.
Clearly, these young warriors are on a mission to show the world the Cubans are back to their mighty best and they will take some stopping.