By Duncan Mackay

Northern Ireland_signs_deal_with_Cuba_for_London_2012_training_camp_April_2012April 7 - Cuba's boxing team, the second most successful country in the 116-year history of the sport at the Olympics, are to complete their final preparations for London 2012 in Belfast, it has been announced. 

The deal, which has been in negotiation for several months, was officially announced at the Holy Trinity Boxing Club in West Belfast.  

"This is a huge coup for the North," said Carál Ní Chuilín, Northern Ireland's Sports Minister.

"Cuba's boxers have dominated the sport at an amateur level and this is the most successful nation in Olympic boxing - they have won 40 gold medals since 1972 and we hope they will add to that total in 2012."

While the Minister's maths may have been a bit off, she is correct in claiming that Cuba are a major force in the sport.

Since they made their Olympic debut at St Louis in 1900, they won a total of 63 medals, including 32 gold, putting them second on the all-time list behind only the United States.

As a comparison, Britain have won 48 boxing medals, 14 of them gold.

The Cuban success story started at Mexico City in 1968 when Enrique Regüeiferos and Rolando Garbey won silver medals in the light welterweight and light middleweight dvisions. 

But it was four years later their domination really begun as they won three gold medals, including the first of three consecutive Olympic titles for Teófilo Stevenson (pictured in white vest) in the heavyweight division.

Tefilo Stevenson_Montreal_1976
Their dominance peaked at Barcelona in 1992 when they won seven gold medals.

But at Beijing four years ago they failed to win a gold medal for the first time at a Games they had not boycotted since Mexico City, although they still claimed four silver and four bronze. 

Among those who attended the announcement was Wayne McCullough (pcitured below in red vest), beaten to the Olympic gold medal at Barcelona 20 years ago in the bantamweight division by Cuba's Joel Casamayor (blue vest).

Wayne McCullough_final_of_Barcelona_1922
"Cubans are traditionally known as the best boxers in the world, so it's an amazing achievement to welcome the world's best boxing team, the Cuban Boxers, to train here," said McCullough.

"With the unrivalled boxing tradition we have in Northern Ireland, plus outstanding facilities and coaches, it's no surprise to me that they would be so eager to base themselves in Belfast."

More than four years ago former world cruiserweight champion Glenn McCrory had claimed he had already done a deal for the Cubans to train at his gym in Newcastle.

Dominic Walsh, the chairman of Sport Northern Ireland, said the decision by them to set-up in Northern Ireland was the product of a lot of hard work by a number of agencies.

"As well as DCAL (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure) and Sport NI, a number of other boxing clubs across the city have joined together with Belfast City Council, Queen's and UUJ (University of Ulster) to showcase local facilities and attract the world's top athletes," he said.

But the squad will not include any female fighters as the Cuban do not agree with the introduction of women's boxing at London 2012.

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