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26 years after a historical relief: the Olympic qualification to Atlanta



We remember Argentina’s return to an Olympic Game after 44 years. It was in 1995, before a crowd in Neuquén and in a face to face with Brazil. The data, the analysis and the memory of Daniel Farabello.

“Now it seems very normal to go to an Olympic Game, but at that time it was something extraordinary. The normal thing was not to qualify “. With that phrase, Daniel Farabello puts us in context about the reality of Argentine basketball until August 26, 1995. Helsinki 1952 had been the last Olympic event in which our country participated, which was followed by ten unsuccessful qualification attempts, including the 1980 Moscow boycott, a contest for which a place had been obtained.

The opportunity was unique: the team that had been consecrated in the Pan-American Championship in Mar del Plata months ago, with some name changes, received the Pre-Olympic tournament at home, one part in Tucumán and another in Neuquén. In both cities, the public packed the stadiums, filled the streets and even followed the players to the hotel. The dream of obtaining one of the three tickets to Atlanta 1996 and breaking the curse of 44 years without playing an Olympic Game revealed the basketball country.

“The pressure was more something ours than what journalism or the environment marked”Farabello recalled about the pre-tournament. “There was no close history of an Olympic basketball team, so we all had it as an illusion and we took it as a historic chance. I would say that more than pressure, what there was was motivation to achieve such a great goal and do it in front of our people. We had been doing things well, with qualification for the 94 World Cup and the 95 Pan American Championship. Besides, people were also very excited, where we were going was a party. At no time did it feel like pressure but rather support ”, completed the base.

The road began at the Villa Luján stadium in Tucumán, with triumphs against Venezuela (83-66 with 27 points from Juan Espil), Uruguay (79-75 with 15 from the Escopetero) and Bahamas (86-66 with 20 from the Bahian escort), and a painful 83-78 loss to Brazil, despite Marcelo Nicola’s 26 and Espil’s 17. From there, the hometown moved to Ruca Che de Neuquén, where Argentina beat Cuba (86-81 with 23 from Espil), the Dominican Republic (97-75 with 29 from Juan), Puerto Rico (105-70 with 30 from the scorer from almost always) and Canada (102-95 with 26 by Diego Osella), to reach the semifinals of the tournament against Brazil, in a rematch with an Olympic ticket in between.

“There were three who qualified and we knew that even losing we had one more chance, but doing it against Brazil was obviously something different. We achieved qualification in the match that everyone wanted to see. What happened in Neuquén was crazy. People outside the stadium, the hotel, they even welcomed us at the airport when we arrived from Tucumán “, he recounted.

“We had a very strong home team and that was noticeable in each match with an even end. The day we played with Brazil the stadium was exploding with people. I think we weren’t fully aware of what was being played there. The dream of every athlete to represent their country in an Olympic Game and the possibility of taking our basketball back to the most important competition after so many years ”, said Farabello, current coach of the U19 National Team.

In a vibrant and even duel, once again Juan Espil emerged as the figure of the night, with 31 points. However, the author of the shot that defined the match was Marcelo Nicola, the versatile insider with a great distance hand who punished with a triple with a minute to go, which served to mark the final difference in the score (87-82) and reach 20 points. A party broke out on the court. Of course, Argentine basketball was once again Olympic, in this case from the hand of a litter consecrated in the National League and with some representatives in Europe.

Espil, clearly, was the scorer (21.6 points) and the star of the team. “Juan was the team’s shooter”, Farabello recalled. “Since 1993, when we go to the Puerto Rico World Cup, it was defined that way. It was our main goal route. Then we had a very good inside game, with Diego Osella, Luis Villar and Nicola, who was more like a three / four, an international forward. Two good scorers like Gallo Pérez and Jorge Racca and the starting point guard Milanesio, who was the lynchpin of everything. We were a very complete team “he continued.

In the bank, who was conducting the orchestra was Guillermo Vecchio, DT, who had started a generational change a couple of years ago. “He had that philosophy of eight or nine passes before shooting, which would be long possessions when still playing on the 30-second clock, of course. Many of us on that squad had just come from playing at a higher pace and he put his stamp on it. It helped us understand each other better and we all played at the same pace “, stressed Daniel.

Although the relief was great, the hubbub did not last as long. The next day, Argentina played its third continental final of the year, after beating Brazil in the Pan American and falling against Uruguay in a South American that not all its figures could attend. The rival was Puerto Rico, the same one who had been overwhelmingly beaten in the previous phase. But, of course, the Puerto Ricans had quality and, above all, experience, with Piculín Ortiz, Ramón Rivas, Jerome Mincy, and Georgie Torres. Just a triple by Mincy, an old acquaintance of the Argentines – he showed off in the National League with Boca – gave the victory to PR in the last play (87-86).

But the defeat did not cover what that tournament was or the unforgettable year, in which the National Team shone in America and reopened to the world, after several decades of disorganization and organizational neglect. The competitiveness in the National League, the growing diffusion of the media and the talent that little by little emerged in our lands marked the beginning of a new era for Argentine basketball.

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