From Cuban to Romanian in the blink of an eye: Asley Gonzalez, Olympic runner-up, surprises his country and his fans by changing his nationality

This is the first case of a Cuban Olympic medalist who, without having to defect, renounces Cuba to go and represent another country in international competition.

Cubano González debuta como rumano
Cubano González debuta como rumano

It is not just any judoka who has just become Romanian . It is the 32-year-old Cuban Asley Gonzalez, Olympic runner-up in London 2012 and world champion in Rio de Janeiro 2013.

Gonzalez, also an Olympian in Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016, also has a world bronze medal in 2011 in the 90 kg. He is considered the best judoka of the Caribbean island in the last decade.

After getting his new citizenship at the beginning of August, the Cuban star will make his debut with the Romanian national team on September 24 at the Grand Prix in Zagreb, Croatia. Gonzalez returns to this European city three years after winning the silver medal there with the Cuban team in July 2018.

In November of that year he was a special guest at the Judo Festival in Romania, and in April 2019 he was absent from the Cuban National Championships without any information on the cause of his absence. He also did not attend the Pan American Games in Lima three months later.

Gonzalez moved up in weight and will compete for Romania in the 100 kg. He was number one in the International Judo Federation ranking at 90 kg on several occasions.

The Cuban Judo Federation has not issued any statement on the change of sport nationality of its emblematic figure of the men’s sector.

Apparently, Gonzalez maintains his residence in Cuba and left the country without any setback after completing the formalities of his discharge with the State Institute of Sports (INDER).

This is the first case of a Cuban Olympic medalist who, without having to defect, resigns from representing Cuba to do so for another nation’s team.

In 2008, volleyball player Taimaris Agüero, Olympic champion with Cuba in 1996 and 2000, was part of Italy’s team at the Beijing Olympic Games. In 2001 she had left the Cuban delegation in Switzerland, before taking refuge in Italy.

The announcement of Gonzalez’s debut in three days was made by the site “Judo Inside” and widely reproduced by alternative Cuban media.

“There will be a spectacular entry at the Zagreb Grand Prix. A World Champion that was not expected. At least not for Romania, which never celebrated a World Champion, but now has one” quoted the publication.

Zagreb will be the first IJF World Circuit event after the Tokyo Olympics. In the Japanese capital none of the three Romanian representatives reached the podium.

Judo Inside reports that the “spectacular” change of country was made possible by the Romanian Judo Federation’s management through the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which was resolved by a decision of the Government. On August 9, the Caribbean judoka took the oath of allegiance.

His friendship with the Romanian champion Vlad Visan influenced his decision to request his naturalization. Gonzalez is married and hopes soon to bring his family to Bucharest.

The last time Asley Gonzalez performed at the world level was at the World Championships in Baku in 2018, and he took seventh place.

In total he competed six times at World Championships and several World Cup circuits. He was several times a medalist at Pan American Games. His last great victory was in the Grand Prix of Havana, where he defeated Krisztian Toth, current Olympic bronze medalist in Tokyo, in the final.

That bout was witnessed by the president of the IJF, Marius Vizer, together with the great figures of Romanian sport including former gymnast Nadia Comaneci, former tennis player and businessman Ilie Nastase and the president of the Cuban Olympic Committee, José Ramón Fernández, who passed away in 2019.

“Gonzalez is ready for the start of his latest adventure, perhaps in Paris in 2024 and a European life in Romania,” stated “Judo Inside.”

“Asley wanted to become a Romanian (...). Here he made friends, he likes our country, he will compete from today for Romania with the ultimate goal of winning an Olympic medal in Paris 2024 (...). His gesture of leaving his country, which he represented with honor and success, for an ever better life in Romania, recommends him to earn the respect of those who understand the value of performance,” said the president of the Romanian Judo Federation, Cozmin Gușă.

This year Gonzalez had already competed in Bucharest with the CSM Oradea club in the Romanian Cup, where he conquered the gold medal and in the National Championship in the “Ne Waza” (wrestling on the ground) modality.

The Cuban joins other foreign athletes who have recently acquired Romanian citizenship, such as American basketball players Kris Richard (CSM CSU Oradea), Giordan Watson and Patrick Richard (U BT Cluj-Napoca), Portuguese soccer player Mario Camora (CFR Cluj) and Kenyan athletes Joan Chelimo, Stella Ruto and Delvine Meringor.