RIO DE JANEIRO – Cuba is better known for baseball and basketball than rowing, while the name of Guantanamo has become synonymous with the U.S. military prison there, but Cuban rower Angel Fournier Rodriguez wants to change all that.
Fournier is Cuba’s most successful rower ever and he says he is aiming to be the world’s best.
In the first race of the 2016 Olympic rowing regatta on Rio’s Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon on Saturday, Fournier powered home in the men’s single sculls first heat, holding off Mexican Juan Carlos Cabrera to finish in 7 minutes, 6.89 seconds.
He is aiming for gold in Rio to add to the top medal he won at the 2011 Pan-American Games.
Born in Guantanamo in eastern Cuba in 1987, Fournier took up rowing as a 12-year-old when a coach spotted him. He had started out playing baseball, which is almost a religion in Cuba, and basketball.
His success is helping to spread the popularity of rowing in the island nation.
An imposing 198-cm, he finished seventh in the single sculls at the 2012 Olympics in London, then took the silver medal at the 2013 world championships — Cuba’s first medal at the worlds. He earned a bronze in this year’s world championships.
He still lives in Guantanamo and trains in Havana.
“What I like most about the single (sculls) is that I totally depend on myself and therefore the results, good or bad, are my entire responsibility,” he said recently.
Asked how he saw himself in 10 years’ time, Fournier said: “I see myself being the world’s best rower.”