On court, in pool, on track, it's golden day for Cuba U.S. women fall in basketball

August 11, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

HAVANA -- Cuba. Cuba.

The chant echoed through a basketball arena, a diving hall and a track stadium yesterday. It provided the beat for Regina Hernandez, as she scored 28 points in an emotional upset. It rang out when Roger Ramirez took one last tumble off a platform and splashed down with a gold medal. And it was the sweet music heard when national hero Javier Sotomayor climbed to the top step of an awards platform.

This was Cuba's day of triumph at the Pan American Games.

Playing in front of 15,000 fans, including President Fidel Castro, the Cuban women's basketball team defeated the United States, 86-81, in the semifinals. The victory launched Cuba into today's final against Brazil, an 87-78 winner over Canada.

Ramirez, a 16-year-old high school student, became Cuba's first gold medalist in diving, outlasting silver medalist Jesus Mena of Mexico and bronze medalist Patrick Jeffrey of the United States in a tense and raucous 10-meter platform competition.

Sotomayor, the world record-holder in the high jump, raised his Pan Am record with a winning jump of 7 feet, 8 1/2 inches. But he failed three times in a bid to raise his world mark by a half-inch to 8- 1/2 .

The Cuban women's team ended one of the longest-running shows of international basketball. The U.S. women had taken every available gold medal since 1982, acquiring two Olympic, two Pan Am, two Goodwill and two World Championships.

But the streak ended in front of a frenzied crowd, which stood and chanted as the Cuban players hugged at midcourt and the U.S. players sat on the bench, many shedding tears.

"I was just trying to soak up the moment," said Teresa Edwards, who led the United States with 22 points. "It was a first for me in international competition. It was something I don't want to forget, something to spur me on, to give that desire to keep playing this game the way I want to keep playing it.

"Just as you soak up the victories, you have to soak up the losses, and that's what I was trying to do, and it's something to definitely avoid, and something for the United States to definitely avoid."

The United States, which will play Canada for the bronze, was undone by inconsistent shooting and poor defense. Led by Hernandez, Cuba dominated the United States inside.

"Even when it seemed they never missed in the second half, it never felt lost until the closing seconds," Edwards said.

After the game, U.S. coach Vivian Stringer gathered the team together to analyze a difficult tournament. Earlier, the United States had its 42-game international winning streak ended by Brazil. Despite routing Cuba, 91-71, on Thursday in the last qualifying-round game, the U.S. team played tentatively yesterday.

"I have to assume full responsibility for this, and I will," Stringer said. "At some point, we are going to have to have a national team, but that is not an excuse for this."

In diving, a frantic, flag-waving crowd cheered for Ramirez and against Mena and Jeffrey. Ramirez scored 560.79 points on 11 dives, to 544.08 for Mena and 539.73 for Jeffrey. It was the first time since 1975 at Mexico that the United States failed to take the platform gold.

"I didn't think I was at a diving event; I thought I was at a boxing match," Jeffrey said.

Mena and Jeffrey asked and received permission to redive after fans broke their concentration with whistles and applause.

"I felt as though people were trying to stop me from doing my best," said Jeffrey, who repeated his seventh dive, a back 3 1/2 in tuck position, and boosted his score by 11.88 points. "I understand the crowd rooting for the Cuban, because they obviously want him to do well. But whistling between dives is obviously rude. I don't want to take anything away from the Cuban diver, because he obviously did well."

On the track, the duel between Sotomayor and Olympic silver medalist Hollis Conway of the United States fell flat. Conway jumped 7-7 1/4 , but finished third behind Troy Kemp of the Bahamas, who cleared the same height with fewer misses.

"I found myself thinking about the crowd, rather than jumping," ,, Conway said. "No one has whistled at me before, other than women."

Conway downplayed the defeat.

"We're all geared for Tokyo [site of the World Championships]," he said. "But Javier was geared for this meet."

Sotomayor, who pushed wheelbarrows full of rocks to help build the Pan American Stadium and who lit the torch to start the games, couldn't get a world record. Less than a year after undergoing surgery on his left knee and heel, Sotomayor settled for breaking his Pan Am record of 7-7 1/4 and receiving the gold medal from Castro.

"The most important thing," Stomayor said, "was the gold medal for my people at the Pan Am Games."

Cuba. Cuba.

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