Puerto Rico has won a total of 1,343 gold, silver and bronze medals in international competitions. The island first participated in an international event at the Second Central American Sports Games in Havana, Cuba, in 1930.
Although Puerto Rico had been participating in international sporting events, it was not until 1947 that Julio Enrique Monagas founded the Puerto Rico Athletic Federation. This organization was created to meet the requirements of the International Olympic Committee, which required that the island have an international organization such as the Federation before it would recognize the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee. Under the direction of the organization's founder, Monagas, Puerto Rican athletes gained sporting sovereignty. This allowed the athletes to compete while representing Puerto Rico, despite the political relationship with the United States. For that reason, since 1952 the Puerto Rican sports teams have carried only the flag of Puerto Rico, unlike with other formal, political and governmental activities, in which both the Puerto Rican and United States flags are used. Previously, the sports delegations had carried the United States flag.
In the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Puerto Rico walked in the parade with a white flag that bore the seal of Puerto Rico. Although the island had its own teams, two nations (Puerto Rico and the United States) could not participate in the parade with the same flag. At the time, the Puerto Rican flag was not officially recognized, which did not happen until 1952 with the creation of the Commonwealth.
In the Olympic Games held since then, Puerto Rican athletes have won medals on six occasions: five bronze medals and one silver medal, all in boxing. The first Olympic medalist was bantamweight boxer Juan Evangelista Venegas. The only silver medal won in the Olympic Games was won by lightweight boxer Luis Francisco Ortíz in the Los Angeles Games in 1984. The other medalists were: Orlando Maldonado, bronze, Montreal, 1976; Arístides González, bronze, Moscow, 1980; Aníbal Acevedo, bronze, Barcelona, 1992; and Daniel Santos, bronze, Atlanta, 1996.
Central American Games
At the International Olympic Committee Congress in Paris in 1924, the delegates from Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala presented a request to create the Central American Games, an initiative by Alfredo B. Cuéllar and Enrique C. Aguirre of Mexico with the support of Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles. The first Central American Games were held two years later in 1926 in Mexico, making them the oldest regional games in the modern world. Some 269 athletes from Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico participated. Since then, the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization (ODECABE for its Spanish acronym), has accepted other nations and there are currently 32 participating countries.
The first Central American Games were held in Mexico in 1926 with the participation of 269 athletes from Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala. The sports included: athletics, basketball, baseball, swimming, diving, fencing, marksmanship, volleyball and tennis. The II Central American Games were held in Cuba, where women participated for the first time. A new sport was added: soccer. Other participating countries, in addition to the original three of 1926, were Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Jamaica. Puerto Rico won its first silver medals in these competitions. The medalists were Eugenio Guerra in the 200 meters, Manuel Luciano in the pole vault, and the military shooting team consisting of soldiers Víctor Rodríguez, Pedro Maldonado, Bautista Bonín, José Aponte and Santos Andino.
The last of these games to be called Central American were organized by El Salvador in 1935. This third edition could not be held in 1934 because of a strong storm suffered the previous year. New sports added were golf, equestrian, boxing and wrestling. In these games, four members of the athletics team and the shooting team from Puerto Rico became the first to win gold medals.
The fourth edition of the games was called, for the first time, the Central American and Caribbean Games. They were held in Panama. Colombia and Venezuela participated for the first time. Water polo, weightlifting, squash and cycling appeared as new sports. Female athlete Rebeka Colberg led the Puerto Rican delegation, winning two gold medals, one in discus and the other in the javelin. She also won a silver medal with the volleyball team. José Antonio Figueroa won another silver medal in the javelin.
The fifth games were held in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1946. They were supposed to take place in 1944, but World War II caused the delay. In the sixth games, held in Guatemala (1950), Haiti participated for the first time. Bowling made its entrance as a new sport. The Puerto Rican delegation carried the Puerto Rican flag and La Borinqueña was played as the national anthem. This caused a serious diplomatic incident between the host country and the United States, with the crux of the conflict being that Puerto Rico, although it had its own sports teams, should have used the United States flag. The seventh games were held in the Federal District in Mexico (1954), and at these games, the Puerto Rico delegation for the first time officially used the Puerto Rican flag, which was carried by Roberto Santana. The most outstanding athlete in the Puerto Rican delegation was Reinaldo "Pochín" Oliver, who won a gold medal in the javelin and a bronze medal in the pentathlon. The eighth games, held in Caracas, Venezuela (1959), welcomed Guyana, but the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti and Honduras did not participate. In 1962, the ninth games took place. The Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization was established that same year.
In 1966, for the first time, Puerto Rico hosted the X Central American and Caribbean Games. The United States Virgin Islands appeared for the first time at these games and the sport of judo was added. Puerto Rico finished third in the medal count. The following games, number XI, took place in Panama in 1970, XII in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (1974), and XIII in Medellin, Colombia (1978). For the XIV Central American and Caribbean Games, held in Havana, Cuba (1982), the British Virgin Islands and Grenada joined the competition and the sports of table tennis, archery, rowing and field hockey were added.
The XV Central American and Caribbean Games in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic (1986), had two auxiliary sites for the first time: Cuba for fencing and Mexico for field hockey. In the XVI Games in Mexico (1990), Aruba and Saint Vincent participated for the first time and the sports of badminton and racquetball were added. Puerto Rico again finished third in the medal count.
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish to Puerto Rico, the XVII Games were held in Ponce in 1993. The XVIII games took place in Maracaibo, Colombia in 1998 with Guatemala as an auxiliary site for the sport of rowing. The XIX Games took place in San Salvador, El Salvador (2002), and the XX Games in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia (2006). The XXI Central American and Caribbean Games (2010) return to Puerto Rico and will be based in the municipality of Mayagüez.
Pan American Games
During the Olympic Games in London (1948), the Pan American Games were planned. The games were inaugurated in Buenos Aires on February 25, 1951. Some 2,500 athletes from 22 countries participated. Puerto Rico was not present at the first games. The island's participation began at the Second Pan American Games in Mexico (1955), where the athletes won two silver medals in boxing and marksmanship, as well as two bronze medals in athletics and boxing.
The organization that governs the games changed its name in 1955 to the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO). Today, the organization consists of 42 nations in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Its official languages are Spanish and English. PASO is based in Mexico City. The third games were held in Chicago in the United States (1959). Puerto Rico did not win a gold medal at those games, nor at the fourth games, in Sao Paolo, Brazil. In the V Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada (1967), weightlifter Fernando Luis Báez won the first gold for Puerto Rico. He repeated the feat in the following games, held in Cali, Colombia (1971), where his gold medal was accompanied by one won by boxer Luis Dávila. Meanwhile, the first silver medals were won by boxer Gerardo Clemente and the marksmanship team, composed of Miguel Emmanuelli, Alberto Guerrero, Ernesto Rivera de Hostos and Viviano Ramírez. At the VII Games in Mexico City, Mexico (1975), the Puerto Rican delegation did not win a gold medal. The VIII Pan American Games were held in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1979. Puerto Rican boxers Alberto Mercado and José "Papo" Molina won gold medals in those games.
The IX Games took place in Caracas, Venezuela (1983), where marathon runner José "Peco" González again won the gold medal following his win at the Central American Games in 1982. The tenth games were held in Indianapolis in the United States (1987). Puerto Rican athletes Nilmari Santini and Lisa Boscarino won gold in women's judo for the first time. Boxer Luis Rolón maintained tradition by winning gold in that sport. In 1991, the games took place in Havana, Cuba. The Puerto Rican basketball team won a gold medal by beating the United States team for the first time. Another gold medal was won in boxing by Luis Dávila. In Mar del Plata, Argentina (1995), Betsey Ortiz won gold in Tae Know Do. The women's softball team also won a silver medal. In 1999, the games took place in Winnipeg, Canada. The XVI Games were held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (2003), and the fifteenth games took place in Rio de Janeiro (2007). The sixteenth games are scheduled for 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Puerto Rico's participation in these events has yielded six Olympic medals, five bronze and one silver. In the Pan American Games, the total is 187 medals, including 18 gold, 65 silver and 104 bronze. In the Central American and Caribbean Games, the tally is 233 gold medals, 399 silver medals and 518 bronze medals for a total of 1,156.
Adapted of ¡Listos! Puerto Rico en el deporte internacional 1930-2004, BBPR., Banco Popular de Puerto Rico.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 12, 2010.