Andy Pereira kept his supporters on a knife-edge in Rio de Janeiro
Photo By: Mauricio Val
2012 Olympic Games
He left it to very last, he kept his supporters on the very edges of their seats but he succeeded.
Earlier this year in March, Cubaís Andy Pereira secured the last place available in the Latin American Qualification Tournament.
Staged in Rio de Janeiro, the tournament was organized in three knock-out events for the five places on offer. Latin America is allocated six but one of those was already taken with Argentinaís Liu Song having won the Menís Singles event at the Pan American Games October 2011.
Thus the two finalists in the first knock-out tournament qualified, the same in the second but in the third only the winner.
It is a system that tests the nerve and mentality of a player; you lose in the semi-finals, you have to pick yourself up and start again the following day.
Andy Pereira did just that.
Threatened but Stumbled
In the first tournament he was beaten by Brazilís Cazuo Matsumoto in the quarter-finals, in the second by Chileís Felipe Olivares in the third round.
The 22 year old had threatened, as he had one year earlier at the Latin American Championships in Guadalajara, when losing at the semi-final stage of the Menís Singles event to the eventual winner, the Dominican Republicís Lin Ju.
Was he to befall the same fate in Rio de Janeiro? No question he possessed the ability but did he have the mental capabilities? The answer was soon forthcoming.
In the third tournament he beat Mexicoís Marcos Madrid in the final to secure his London ticket.
He had the last laugh; somewhat ironically, the two players who beat Andy Pereira in Rio de Janeiro Ė Cazuo Matsumoto, Felipe Olivares - have not qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Won the Lottery
Victory saw Dr Amado Bode Yanes, the President of the Cuban Table Tennis Federation leap for joy in unbridled delight, it was the equivalent of winning the National Lottery.
The heart bled for Marcos Madrid, four years earlier at the Latin American Olympic Qualification Tournament in the Dominican Republic, he had suffered exactly the same fate when losing to Trinidad and Tobago`s Dexter St Louis.
A Difficult Choice
I wonder if Dr Amado Bode Yanes had been given the option of a million dollar first prize in the National Lottery or Andy Pereira qualifying for the Olympic Games, which would he have chosen?
Sorry Andy, I think I know the answer!
Last Appearance was Sydney
Perhaps one of the reasons for the celebration is that over a decade had passed since Cuba had fielded a table tennis player in the Olympic Games, a country that has a proud Olympic record, or to be more precise, a proud Summer Olympic Games record.
Unique Olympic Record
Cuba has won a total of 194 gold medals at the Summer Olympic Games; the country has never entered the athletes in the Winter Olympic Games, not too much snow in Havana!
No other country has won more medals at a Summer Olympic Games but has never won a medal of any colour in the Winter Olympics.
No appearances in the Winter Olympic Games, in the table tennis events at the Summer Olympics, London will be the third time that Cuban players have been present.
In 1992 at the Barcelona Olympic Games Maricel Ramirez and Yolanda Rodriguez played in the Womenís Singles event and were Womenís Doubles partners; whilst in the counterpart Menís Singles competitions Ruben Arado and Santiago Roque competed in the Menís Singles and joined forces in the Menís Doubles.
Eight years later in Sydney, the most recent occasion that Cuban table tennis players were on duty in the Olympic Games, Maricel Ramirez and Ruben Arado were once again in action.
Maricel Ramirez played in the Womenís Singles event and with Leticia Suarez in the Womenís Doubles; whilst Ruben Arado appeared only in the Menís Doubles.
He partnered Francisco Arado who was also in Menís Singles action as was Reiner Soza.
Both Francisco Arado and Reiner Soza are now prominent in the coaching world; Reiner Soza is the National Coach for the Central American country of Panama; whilst Francisco Arado is one of the Brazilian National Coaches.
Furthermore, for a Latin American country, Reiner Soza is somewhat unique. He was a defender; accepted Lin Ju is a defensive player but he honed his skills in China before moving to the Dominican Republic.
Born and bred in Cuba, Reiner Soza is somewhat on his own.
Meanwhile, Francisco Arado is very much Caroline Kumaharaís guiding hand in international events
She will be in London competing in the Womenís Singles event and alongside Ligia Silva and Gui Lin for Brazil in the Womenís Team competition.
At the London 2012 Olympic Games, Andy Pereira will be on duty in only the Menís Singles but he will not be totally alone; Yadira Silva, who will represent Mexico as she did in Beijing, will be in action in London in the Womenís Singles event.
She was born in Cuba and learned her skills in Havana before marrying and moving to live in Mexico.
No Stranger to Europe
Furthermore, Andy Pereira is no stranger to life in Europe; for five years he has practised at the Swedish National Training Centre in KŲping under the watchful eye of Soren Ahlen, spending some nine months of the year, between September and May, in the Nordic country competing in the Swedish League.
Sweden, north of Stockholm there is plenty of snow and Nordic countries are pretty good at sport in freezing temperatures.
Andy Pereira is a talented young man who can turn his hand to most sports; the first Cuban to compete in the Winter Olympic Games.
Speed is crucial in table tennis; Andy get your skates on!
Ready for action, Andy Pereira at the ExCeL Arena in London ready for the 2012 Olympic Games
Photo courtesy of Evelio Alvarez