Thu, Feb 26, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Cuban champ defected to US, wife says

AP , HAVANA

Former Olympic boxing champion Guillermo Rigondeaux has defected to the US, 18 months after he was kicked off the Cuba team as punishment for a previous defection attempt.

Farah Colina said on Tuesday her husband was out of professional options and had no choice but to try again to flee Cuba.

“I’m surprised on one level because he left home at the end of January saying he was going to Santiago,” Colina said, referring to the eastern city that was Cuba’s second largest. “But, on another level, I think he was obligated to do this.”

During an interview at the home in Havana’s Boyeros district that she shared with Rigondeaux, the couple’s seven-year-old son and her 17-year-old boy who the boxer raised as his stepson, Colina said her husband called a neighbor on Saturday to say he made it to Miami.

The family does not have a phone.

She declined to give details about his journey to the US, but said Rigondeaux sounded both happy and nervous on the phone.

Luis de Cubas, an agent for Arena Box Promotions in the US, confirmed 28-year-old Rigondeaux was in Miami and keen to fight professionally.

Rigondeaux won two Olympic bantamweight titles and hoped to try for a third at last year’s Beijing Games. But in July 2007 he and 2005 welterweight world champion Erislandy Lara disappeared during the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Both were arrested for overstaying their visas and sent back to the island.

Rigondeaux and Lara insisted they never intended to defect, but a German promoter said they signed pro contracts. Former Cuban president Fidel Castro wrote in an essay after their return to Cuba that the pair “had reached the point of no return” with the national boxing team. Lara defected to the US last year.

In an interview with The ­Associated Press in August, Rigondeaux insisted he deserved a second chance to box for Cuba. He called being arrested in Brazil an act of “great indiscipline.”

His wife said that after returning to Cuba, Rigondeaux continued to train for months but became increasingly depressed.

“He’d been destroyed for a year and a half, although he knew it was his fault,” Colina said. “But he always thought they would give him another chance. Those were very hard moments and nobody came to even offer him a job.”

Colina, a housewife, said she did not expect Cuban authorities to hold Rigondeaux’s defection against her.

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