Track and field as an organized sport began to take root in Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War, when the U.S. government included sports in the school curriculum. At the beginning of the 20th century, competitions took place on school grounds but later on there were competitions in which students from different schools competed against each other.
The Department of Public Instruction held the first track and field competition at the elementary/high school level in 1902. To regulate sports events between schools, the Asociación Atlética Interescolar was created. It was responsible for coordinating track and field, basketball, and baseball competitions. Track and field sprints consist of 100, 200, 440, and 880-yard races; there are obstacle races 220 yards long; and relay races one-fourth of a mile and one mile long. Additional events include the long jump, pole vault, and shot put. One of the most distinguished players in these games was Cosme Beitía, who as a high school student won many events.
During the 1910s and early 1920s, high schools and university institutions participated in the Juegos Interescolares (Interscholastic Games). Meaning there were also representatives from the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in Mayagüez (CAAM), and the Instituto Politécnico in San Germán. During these years, there was great rivalry in track and field between the University of Puerto Rico and Central High School in Santurce. In 1924, Central High School protested because, allegedly, a university athlete had enrolled a day before the games, which caused a violent confrontation. As a consequence, authorities eliminated the competitions between high school and university students.
University track and field begins to peak when the Liga Atlética Intercolegial was created in 1929, which would later be known as Liga Atlética Interuniversitaria (LAI). The University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, Colegio de Mayagüez (CAAM), and Instituto Politécnico participated there. The Justas de Atletismo Universitario (University Athletics Tournament) were, and continue to be, one of the most popular events of this league. Many athletes who have participated in the LAI have represented the country in international competitions.
Also in 1929, the first track and field clubs on the island are created such as the Club Atlético de Ponce, created by Julio Enrique Monagas, and the Club Olímpico de San Juan, created by Julio Francis Edwards. These sports organizations were important because they were not affiliated to any school or university and because they were the first to conduct competitions using the metric system.
In 1930, Puerto Rico participated for the first time in an international competition: the Central American and Caribbean Games, which took place in Havana, Cuba. This first delegation was small. It consisted of two tennis players, a shooting team, and four track and field athletes. They returned home with two silver medals: Manuel Luciano Gómez in pole vault and Eugenio Guerra in 200-meter dash. However, it was not until 1938 that Puerto Rican women began to participate in track and field events in international competitions.
In 1947, Julio Enrique Monagas created the Federación de Atletismo Aficionado de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Amateur Athletic Federation), which was fundamental in developing the sport of track and field on the island. Later on, this organization became affiliated to the Federación Internacional de Atletismo Aficionado (International Amateur Athletic Federation). In 1948, with the creation of Puerto Rico's Olympic Committee, Puerto Rican athletes begin to train according to Olympic rules and requirements. That same year, Puerto Rico participated for the first time in the Olympic Games that took place in London.
With the growing popularity of the sport of track and field, more and more competitions take place on the island, some of them are international. One of them is the San Blás de Illescas Half Marathon, which takes place annually since 1963 in the municipality of Coamo. In this race, many foreign athletes have competed from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, China, United States, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Russia. Other important races that take place on the island are La Guadalupe Marathon in Ponce, Guatibirí del Otoao Half Marathon in Utuado, and World's Best 10K on the Teodoro Moscoso bridge in San Juan, among others.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
¡Listos!: Puerto Rico en el deporte internacional 1930-2004, catálogo de exhibición del Banco Popular de Puerto Rico.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 05, 2010.