Photos: Cuban train conductor’s neighbourhood-backed wrestling championship

UPDATED ON FEB 16, 2018 09:37 AM IST
Young wrestlers stand still during a priest’s prayer at the start of a championship coined “The truth of my neighbourhood,” in the Chicharrones neighbourhood of Santiago, Cuba. In this neighbourhood, a wrestling-loving local man created a homegrown, neighborhood-backed program to support aspiring wrestlers from Cuba's economically struggling provinces. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
Wrestlers are weighed by an instructor during the “The truth of my neighbourhood” championship. Relatively small and short on resources, Cuba has long been an outsize power in amateur athletics, bringing back hundreds of Olympic and international medals in boxing, track and field and wrestling. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
Girls parade a Cuban flag during the opening ceremony for the week-long student wrestling championship. Cuban sporting efforts have been entirely state-run, with talented children entering government programs early and spending their young adult lives in the arms of an official program that focuses their every minute on athletic glory. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
Wrestlers train in the street during championship week. Two years ago, Heredia Marrero, 55, started bringing children to Chicharrones for training and a tournament. “We did it on the spur of the moment, in a pretty improvised way,” he said. “We didn’t have referees or all the equipment we needed, but finally everyone got behind it.” (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
Lidia Danger (2nd R), and her husband Armando Castellano, (L), pose with three young wrestlers from Gramma province they hosted at their home during the championship. The participants stayed with 70 local families, who often depend on small donations to feed the extra mouths and entertain the kids during the seven-day tournament. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
Nalis Mendoza slices a tomato as she feeds her sons, both participants in the wrestling championship. Local doctors and nurses volunteer their time to monitor the wrestlers’ health and treat any injuries, while neighbourhood children help by gathering wood to feed stoves feeding the participants in this community affair. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
A state school donated a wrestling mat, and neighbours cleaned, painted and repaired the gym where the tournament took place. Homemade bleachers weren't big enough to seat the hundreds of people who crammed in the gym to watch this match during the tournament. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
A referee, like the others trained by local sports schools for the event, prepares to pound on the mat if either wrestler's back touches the mat. The more than 150 young wrestlers were divided into teams from various provinces across Cuba and the Chicharrones neighbourhood itself. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
Referees, wrestlers and locals alike are glued to an ongoing match. Organiser Heredia was never a wrestler himself, but developed a fervent interest in the sport after his sons wrestled in state programs. And even though it’s not officially sanctioned, the local government gave its implicit blessing to the tournament by donating equipment. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
A wrestler is fanned off with a towel by his coach after a match. Tournament categories included freestyle, Greco-Roman wrestling and girls’ events. The championship this year was bagged by the Santiago province’s team. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
Two visiting wrestlers walk back to the home that's hosting them. Heredia, who has been conducting trains for 38 years, says his dream is to one day create a professional wrestling school that can feed Cuban youths’ appetite for the sport. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Young wrestlers stand still during a priest’s prayer at the start of a championship coined “The truth of my neighbourhood,” in the Chicharrones neighbourhood of Santiago, Cuba. In this neighbourhood, a wrestling-loving local man created a homegrown, neighborhood-backed program to support aspiring wrestlers from Cuba's economically struggling provinces. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Wrestlers are weighed by an instructor during the “The truth of my neighbourhood” championship. Relatively small and short on resources, Cuba has long been an outsize power in amateur athletics, bringing back hundreds of Olympic and international medals in boxing, track and field and wrestling. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Girls parade a Cuban flag during the opening ceremony for the week-long student wrestling championship. Cuban sporting efforts have been entirely state-run, with talented children entering government programs early and spending their young adult lives in the arms of an official program that focuses their every minute on athletic glory. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Wrestlers train in the street during championship week. Two years ago, Heredia Marrero, 55, started bringing children to Chicharrones for training and a tournament. “We did it on the spur of the moment, in a pretty improvised way,” he said. “We didn’t have referees or all the equipment we needed, but finally everyone got behind it.” (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Lidia Danger (2nd R), and her husband Armando Castellano, (L), pose with three young wrestlers from Gramma province they hosted at their home during the championship. The participants stayed with 70 local families, who often depend on small donations to feed the extra mouths and entertain the kids during the seven-day tournament. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Nalis Mendoza slices a tomato as she feeds her sons, both participants in the wrestling championship. Local doctors and nurses volunteer their time to monitor the wrestlers’ health and treat any injuries, while neighbourhood children help by gathering wood to feed stoves feeding the participants in this community affair. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

A state school donated a wrestling mat, and neighbours cleaned, painted and repaired the gym where the tournament took place. Homemade bleachers weren't big enough to seat the hundreds of people who crammed in the gym to watch this match during the tournament. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

A referee, like the others trained by local sports schools for the event, prepares to pound on the mat if either wrestler's back touches the mat. The more than 150 young wrestlers were divided into teams from various provinces across Cuba and the Chicharrones neighbourhood itself. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Referees, wrestlers and locals alike are glued to an ongoing match. Organiser Heredia was never a wrestler himself, but developed a fervent interest in the sport after his sons wrestled in state programs. And even though it’s not officially sanctioned, the local government gave its implicit blessing to the tournament by donating equipment. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

A wrestler is fanned off with a towel by his coach after a match. Tournament categories included freestyle, Greco-Roman wrestling and girls’ events. The championship this year was bagged by the Santiago province’s team. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Two visiting wrestlers walk back to the home that's hosting them. Heredia, who has been conducting trains for 38 years, says his dream is to one day create a professional wrestling school that can feed Cuban youths’ appetite for the sport. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

About The Gallery

In the neighborhood of Chicharrones in Santiago, Cuba, wrestling-loving train conductor Leandro Heredia Marrero is trying to replicate the nation's success in sports without the help of government programmes in a homegrown, neighborhood-backed program to support aspiring wrestlers.

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