Winning is the goal inherent to competing, or at least that is the modernist optics of sports. However, for the great majority of mortals, conquering a gold medal is a chimera. That was the case of Cuban Hanser García, a swimmer who arrived at the 2012 London Olympic Games as pure decoration and dazzled the world when, against all forecasts, he reached the 100m freestyle grand final.
Hanser, or “El Pollo” (The Chicken), as he is known from Cabo de San Antonio to Punta de Maisí (easternmost and westernmost points of Cuba) became the first Cuban in history to classify for an Olympic final in that style, and the first since Atlanta 1996 in all styles. On that occasion, Rodolfo Falcón and Neisser Bent won silver and bronze, the most brilliant Cuban swimming performance ever.
Already in the final competition, when discussing the crown of the London summer event, García swam at his best, but his supreme effort only afforded him the seventh position after being excelled by the monsters of that specialty and despite having timed 48.04 seconds, his best performance ever in that distance.
“I truly did what I could and although I am satisfied, I think that whoever has no ambitions is lost; this gives me strength for another Olympic Games. I’m young and have more than enough will to continue on this road”, declared the 23-year old Antillean swimmer, a former water polo player minutes after concluding the competition in the British capital’s aquatic center.
“I wanted more. The Cuban people, whom I so much admire, must know that I swam with my soul. I gave everything I had to obtain a medal. It was very difficult. It was a hard competition, I got tired”, revealed El Pollo to colleague Fausto Triana right after his courageous, quixotic effort.
With scarcely three years of experience as a swimmer, Hanser was seventh in the competition, excelled by the winner, U.S. Nathan Adrian (47.52); the favorite, Australian James Magnussen (47.53), Canadian Brent Hayden (47.80), Frenchman Yasnnick Agnel (47.84), twice champion and vice champion in another race in this 2012 London meeting; Dutchman Sebastian Verschuren (47.88) and Brazilian César Cielo (47.92), world recorder in the hectometer and bronze medal in Beijing 2008, who was sixth.
Of course, these are first world swimmers, trained in first level pools and facilities of highly advanced sports development, with technological applications to which Hanser García never had access, and even hardly knows that exist.
The will of the young Villa Clara-born Cuban played an essential role in his feat. “This improves me. What can I say? It’s a very big prize for which I struggled with great dedication, love and sacrifice”, he revealed, excited.
Each time a Cuban reaches an Olympic swimming final, or even a B final, we will be speaking of epics and odysseys. Only these men can give true testimony of how they succeeded in classifying, considering the terrible training conditions existing in the country.
Hanser García, El Pollo, is a hero, and his people acclaim him as such. On occasions, certainly rare ones, winning ceases to be the goal inherent to competing, and medals move to a second plane.