HAVANA -- Former Olympic boxing champion Guillermo Rigondeaux defected to the United States, 18 months after he was kicked off the Cuba team as punishment for a previous defection attempt.
Farah Colina said Tuesday her husband had no choice but to flee Cuba if he wanted to box again.
"I'm surprised on one level because he left home at the end of January saying he was going to Santiago," Colina said, referring to the eastern city that is Cuba's second largest. "But, on another level, I think he was obligated to do this."
Luis de Cubas, an agent for Arena Box Promotions in the United States, confirmed that Rigondeaux was in Miami and interested in fighting. The 28-year-old boxer won bantamweight gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
Colina said her husband called a neighbor Saturday to say he made it to Miami. The family does not have a phone. She declined to describe his journey to the U.S., but said he sounded happy and nervous on the phone.
She spoke from her home in Havana's Boyeros district that she shared with Rigondeaux, the couple's 7-year-old son and her 17-year-old boy whom the boxer raised as his stepson.
Rigondeaux hoped to try for a third Olympic title at last summer's Beijing Games. But in July 2007 he and 2005 welterweight world champion Erislandy Lara disappeared during the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Both were accused of overstaying their visas, arrested and sent back to the island.
Rigondeaux and Lara insisted they never intended to defect, but a German promoter said they signed pro contracts. Fidel Castro wrote in an essay after their return to Cuba that the pair had "reached the point of no return" with the national boxing team. Lara defected to the U.S. last year.
In an interview with The Associated Press in August, Rigondeaux insisted he deserved a second chance to box for Cuba. His wife said that after her husband returned to Cuba, Rigondeaux trained for months but became increasingly depressed.
"He always thought they would give him another chance," Colina said. "Those were very hard moments and nobody came to even offer him a job."