U.S. to compete in first Cuba track meet since '92

News from Cuba | Thursday, 28 May 2009

U.S. track and field athletes will compete this weekend in Cuba for the first time in 17 years in what officials said was a sign of warming relations between the two countries.

Thirteen Americans form part of a field of more than 240 athletes from 15 countries battling for medals in a meet on Friday and Saturday at Havana's Pan-American Stadium.

U.S. tracksters last competed in Cuba in the 1992 World Cup, but are returning as U.S. President Barack Obama moves to improve long-hostile U.S.-Cuban relations following steps last month to ease the trade embargo imposed against Havana since 1962.

"As an organization, we had an obligation to re-establish friendships in the Caribbean and re-establish the people-to-people tradition we had with the Cuban people," Doug Logan, chief executive of USA Track & Field, which governs the sport in the United States, said in Havana on Thursday.

"We're in a different season, with the new president that we have, and I believe that there is a new opportunity with sports," he said in a press conference.

Logan said talks had begun with the aim of increasing track and field events between the two countries, which have been at odds since Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution.

Cuban national sports commissioner Esteban Brice said the U.S. presence was greeted with "pleasure" and "seriousness" by Cuban officials.

The meet will actually be two events, the Copa America for multi-event competitions such as the decathlon, and the Barrientos Memorial track and field tournament.

Organizers said some of the other countries represented at the event include Brazil, Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. (Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Jeff Franks)

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