segunda-feira, maio 12, 2008

Cuban Olympian Missing In Florida

Cuban Olympian Missing In Florida
Athlete Was In Miami For Pan American Judo Championships
POSTED: 11:53 am CDT May 12, 2008
UPDATED: 4:03 pm CDT May 12, 2008
MIAMI -- The Cuban national judo team returned home Monday without one of its stars, whose weekend disappearance fueled speculation that she is defecting.
Yurisel Laborde, a two-time world champion and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, was not with the team Monday when its flight left Miami International Airport. She has not been seen since disappearing Sunday after competing in the Pan American Judo Championships.
The Cuban team checked in for their flight lugging new mountain bikes, televisions, espresso machines and other purchases made during their historic stay in Miami -- it was the first time in 40 years that a Cuban Olympic team in any sport had competed in this city, a hotbed of anti-Fidel Castro sentiment.
As she waited for a bike to be wrapped in plastic, tournament gold medalist Idalys Ortiz said was proud of her team's performance. Like her teammates, Ortiz declined to talk about Laborde, who had won a gold medal in the competition's 78-kilograms division.
"Of that, I don't know anything," Ortiz said.
Coach Ronaldo Veitia Valdivie said he trusted Laborde, whom he had trained since she was 12. He said he had worked hard to enable her to compete in Miami, since she was already qualified for the this summer's Beijing Olympics.
"She wasn't thinking it through. You know how youth is," he said.
Veitia said Laborde's apparent defection would be a great blow to her mother. As he sat among trophies the team collected at the competition, Veitia criticized the U.S. media for focusing on the apparent defection.
"You are giving more importance to one deception than all of the accomplishments of all of the Cuban team," he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Zachary Mann said Laborde had not contacted his agency. He said she might reach out to social service groups, churches or an attorney before contacting authorities. A message left with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was not immediately returned.
"There's so many things, you can't really speculate what she is or isn't doing," Mann said.
In March, seven Cuban soccer players defected at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Tampa. Cuba called the act "dishonorable" and a "low blow."
Laborde left a note with her teammates, but its contents were not known, Team USA President Jose Rodriguez said.
"It was never shown to me by the Cuban delegation," Rodriguez said.
Laborde won her gold medal Thursday - the same day protesters demonstrated against the inclusion of a Cuban delegation at the meet.
There were rumors of possible defections at the competition a day before Laborde went missing. The Cuban team opted to rest rather than compete Saturday in preparation for the next day's events. The team's absence Saturday morning fueled speculation, but members were spotted in the stands during the afternoon.
If Laborde did defect, she would not be able to compete on the American team in the Beijing, Rodriguez said. He said Laborde faced a lengthy immigation process and that would not be complete by the games.
"First and foremost, to be on the Olympic team, you have to be an American citizen," he said.
FONTE: - San Antonio,TX,USA

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