16-year-old captures first gold for Cuba in swim competition

August 17, 1991

HAVANA -- Mario Gonzalez draped a large Cuban flag over his shoulders like a cape as he stepped forward to receive his gold medal from President Fidel Castro.

Delirious fans were cheering as if Gonzalez, 16, was Havana's version of superman, and he looked the part. Instead, he just had become the first Cuban swimmer to win gold in the history of the Pan American Games.

"If we had made a movie, this is what it would have been," said Gonzalez's coach, Jose Vasquez.

The victory came in Pan Am Games record time in the 200-meter breast stroke, and it coincided with Castro's first appearance at the pool complex.

"When I saw the commandante here, I knew I would win," Gonzalez said.

The two Cubans upstaged a pair of record performances by the U.S. team, which otherwise had another disappointing day.

American Sean Killion set a Pan Am Games mark of 3 minutes, 50.38 seconds in winning the 400 freestyle. Teammate Dorsey Tierney collected her second gold this week by winning the 100 breaststroke in 1:10.30, also a record for the games.

Other U.S. results fell shy of expectations. Canadian Kristen Topham edged two favored Americans to win the 100 butterfly, and the U.S. men's 400 relay team was disqualified in morning preliminaries when anchor Bob Utley jumped early on the final leg.

"I don't think we've backed off or taken anything for granted," Tierney said. "I think maybe some people were a little rattled by the presence of Fidel."

The Americans, who had predicted a near sweep, have won 13 of 20 races, with two days of competition remaining. Most of their losses have been upsets, including Gonzalez's victory over Nelson Diebel and Tyler Mayfield, who finished second and third.

"He swam a great race," Diebel said. "With Fidel there, I knew he was going to use that to help him.


Armando Becker, a Venezuelan basketball player, reportedly failed his doping test at the Pan Am Games for using cocaine.

Prensa Latina, the Cuban news agency, reported that Becker was found to have used cocaine in the last two weeks.

"There is no doubt about it," Prensa Latina quoted Dr. Ricardo Javornik, a member of the medical corps for Venezuela who was present when the urine sample was analyzed.

Earlier in the games, three other athletes failed doping tests.

Mario Vasquez Rana, president of the Pan American Sports Organization, said none of the athletes had used performance-enhancing drugs. Yet, on Thursday, when Peruvian shooter Pedro Garcia was announced as testing positive, it was revealed that Garcia used a beta-blocker called propranolol.

Propranolol is a medication for pulse regulation that slows the heartbeat. Shooters sometimes use such illegal substances to calm them and help their aim.

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