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From Cuba to T&T

Solangel Guzman dreams of Rio 2016

By Ian Prescott ian.prescott@trinidadexpress.com

"I would have been just one more. Cuba has so many qualified coaches," Solangel Guzman says. "I did what I wanted to do for Cuba. Now, I come to Trinidad and Tobago looking for a better life for me and my son. Here, I have more opportunities to give my expertise as a coach."

Two and half years ago, at the height of her badminton playing career, then 25-year-old Solange Guzman left her native Cuba for T&T. She was Cuban badminton champion, and among the best in the Americas region. Now, she coaches the sport here, and also wants to represent this country at the Brazil 2016 Olympics.

"I came here with only one reason, which is to develop the sport. My plan is to have people play at my level, or better than me," she said. "An athlete's life is short. After I finish as an athlete, I would like to be a great coach. I want to relay my experience to the younger ones."

A product of the Cuban systems that identify gifted young athletes, 28-year-old Guzman has been playing badminton at 12. She is originally from Cuba's rural Tobacco-growing Pinar Del Rio district, but spent most of her life training in the capital city of Havana. She admits to coming from a "humble" background, and wants to bring badminton to the poor and differently able in T&T. She also has ambitions to open her own badminton training centre.

"I personally consider myself to be an inspiration to persons, that no matter what their position may be, they can achieve and reach their goals as I did through hard work and dedication," Guzman says. "Considering my humble beginnings, I am living testimony to that fact."

Holder of a BSc in Physical Education and Sport, Guzman now plays for T&T, and is also a Government-appointed badminton coach based at Central Regional Indoor Sport Arena in Chaguanas. She cherishes the opportunity to live and work here.

"Thank God, I have a good brain. I know what I am doing. I work for the Ministry of Sport and the Sport Company, which have given me the opportunity to do what I really want to do, which is to develop the sport, " Guzman said. "My job is to develop badminton in the Central area. So I go into the schools, primary schools, secondary schools, and I introduce the sport there. I introduce the basics.

"I also develop badminton in the community where I have badminton training here (at Chaguanas Indoor Facility). I choose those who have the skill to achieve in the sport, and I offer them free elite training."

Guzman was a top badminton player in Cuba, where she became a Pan Am Games doubles quarter-finalist, a CAC singles champion and also medalled at the Peru Open, as well as tournaments in Brazil, Venezuela and Dominican Republic. Since arriving in T&T, she has also dominated the local badminton scene, taking the triple crown in every tournament, bar the 2010 Chinese Open, where she got two gold and one silver medal.

This year has been especially fruitful, with Guzman winning the triple crown of singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles at the Trinidad and Tobago nationals and the Venezuela Open. Guzman was also the lone senior T&T badminton player to medal in singles play at the Caribbean Regional Badminton Confederation (Carebaco) Championship in Dominican Republic.

She also teamed up with Virginia Chariandy-Balwant to win women's doubles silver. However, her great goal remains to compete at the Olympics.

"I am about to start the preparation in January in order to qualify for the (2016) Olympics. If I get the sponsorship, I am planning to participate in about 16 tournaments per year, because I want to have enough points to qualify for the Olympics. So, its a lot of training, a lot of sacrifice, and I need a lot of help," Guzman said.

Guzman has had difficulty travelling to tournaments as a member of the T&T team while holding a Cuban passport. Still, it has not stopped her getting impressive results.

"I play for Trinidad, but only [halfway] because I am not a citizen, so I could not fulfil all the requirements. For example, I cannot participate as an athlete in (the) CAC tournament, Pan Am Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympics," Guzman said." I participate in open tournaments, but I will like to do it officially...to do to CAC Games, Olympics and so on."

"The Government told me that they will help me with the citizenship and I am waiting to see what happens," Guzman said. "I am in the process, I know that eventually I will become a citizen. I have something inside me that tells me I can achieve my goal. But it takes more than just my desire, I need help. And that help is that I need to get my citizenship.

"I am travelling with my Cuban passport, and it's difficult when you need to go and get (a) visa. And I need to get sponsorship, because to compete and to get to tournaments you need money."

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