The Cuban Men's National Team face the great challenge of taking part in the World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Düsseldorf, Germany, against hosts Germany, Chinese Taipei and Spain, while trying to save something for the FIVB World League.
For the two competitions, Cuba brought together a young team but one with experience and the desire to play at international level.
Roberlandy Simón Aties, Rolando Jurquin Despaigne, Odelvys Dominico Speek, Henry Bell Cisneros, Oreol Camejo Duruthy, Raydel Hierrezuelo Aguirre, Keibel Gutiérrez Restitution, Yadier Sánchez Sierra, David de la Torre Morrell are the players directed by experienced Head Coach Orlando Samuels Blackwood.
After the retirement of Pavel Pimienta and Tomas Aldazabal, the Cuban team especially rely on the experience of middle blockers Simón Aties and Dominico Speek.
Cuba have had a busy 2008 up to now. Portugal played host to them in five friendly matches before the Men's World Olympic Qualification Tournaments.
In the four-team tournament in Düsseldorf, Cuba played Spain, Chinese Taipei and Germany through May 23-25.
In preparation for the World Olympic Qualification Tournament and the World League, the Cubans trained at high altitude in Guatemala before flying back to the island to participate in the Fourth Cuban Sport Olympiad, where they played the National Teams of Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago and the Cuban Junior Team.
Cuba's Men will be hoping to go some way of improving on the 15th-place finish at the 2006 FIVB World Championships in Japan, which was a huge come down after the high of finishing third in the 2005 World League.
That third place was reminiscent of the time when Cuba were regularly finishing among the medals. The late 1980s and throughout the 1990s was a particularly rich time for them. They claimed World Cup gold in 1989 to add to their silver in 1981 and bronze in 1977. They then added two silvers in the competition in 1991 and 1999.
In the World League, Cuba claimed gold in 1998, silver in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1997 and 1999 and bronze in 2005.
The Cubans finished second in the World Championships in Rio de Janeiro in 1990 and claimed two bronzes in 1978 and 1998.
They also have a lone Olympic medal, claiming bronze at the 1976 Montreal Games.
Samuels Blackwood has from last year been driving the Cuban National
Team and changes are already being noticed. The Head Coach has been
imposing discipline and training the players at the highest level every
day to make sure they are well-prepared to achieve good results in the
tournaments Cuba will take part in this year.
Blackwood was born in the county of Camagüey on December 31, 1946. He
is considered one of the best trainers in Cuba and has also directed
teams from other countries with impressive results.