HAVANA RXB — HAVANA -- The first gold medal of the 11th Pan American Games went to a man named Cuba yesterday.
And he promised to present the prize as a birthday present to Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Alberto Cuba, a 29-year-old electronics technician with a long stride, ran through the heat, humidity and smoke belching from an accompanying bus, to win the men's marathon in 2 hours, 19 minutes, 27 seconds.
Cuba needed a last burst of speed on the track of the Pan American Stadium to hold off a late rush by Brazil's Jose Carlos Da Santair, who finished second in 2:19.29.
Cuba's Radames Gonzales finished third in 2:23.05.
Cuba, running in only his third marathon, was carried by a wave of cheers along the streets of Havana, as thousands turned out for a race that began in 82-degree heat and darkness at 6:30 a.m. He was greeted at the finish by ecstatic spectators and then settled in for a raucous news conference where he was joined by his parents, grandfather, brothers and sisters-in-law.
"It was very emotional," Cuba said. "Coming into the stadium, when everyone was cheering, I was nervous."
Cuba clutched his gold medal, but apparently, he won't be keeping it for long. He vowed to present the medal to Castro, whose birthday is Aug. 13.
Olga Avalos Appell of Mexico won the women's marathon in 2:43.36. Cubans Maribel Durruty (2:46.04) and Emperatriz Wilson Traba (2:48.48) finished second and third, respectively.
Americans Jan Ettle and Lynn Deninno ran together for most of the race, with Ettle pulling away for a fourth-place finish in 2:49.22 and Deninno finishing fifth in 2:49.34.
"Dogs were a problem," Deninno said. "They would come right up to you and you had to dodge them. I was bitten by a German Shepherd in February. I'm not good with dogs when I run."
Warning: Too much cheering
That was the story of the diving competition where Kent Ferguson of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had to outlast a hometown hero and a partisan crowd to win the 3-meter event and become the first U.S. gold medalist.
Ferguson needed nine dives to pass a previously unknown Cuban named Edgar Ospina.
Ferguson finished with 650.52 points to take his 16th international title. Mark Bradshaw, complaining of "anti-American judging," finished second with 644.88 points. Jorge Mondragon of Mexico took the bronze, and Ospina was fourth.
The crowd of 3,000, including International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch, was admonished by officials remain quiet during the competition at the new diving complex. Cuban fans roared when Ospina's scores were posted and clapped during dives by other competitors.
"I kept my Walkman on so I didn't know," Ferguson said. "I listened to Paula Abdul sing, just upbeat music."
Cuba, which has not been to an Olympic Games since 1980, will attend the 1992 Barcelona Games, according to Samaranch.
"I can assure you that the Cuban team will be in Barcelona and also President Castro will be in Barcelona," Samaranch said. "Some days ago, there was a summit of the heads of the Spanish-speaking states in Guadalajara, Mexico. There will be a second summit next July in Spain, and the King of Spain is BTC inviting all of these heads of state to meet with him at the opening ceremony in Barcelona. President Castro will be there."