Panamanian sport recently experienced one of its most spectacular moments of all time: the national soccer team’s pass to the FIFA World Cup, which Russia will host, in the summer of 2018. This will be the first time that Panamanians will play on the most followed tournament on the planet and the triumph, achieved with controversy included, unleashed an euphoria that doesn’t seem to end. What other facts can be considered among the most outstanding in the sports history of the Isthmus? Panamericanworld shares five that continue to make Panama proud.
SOCCER TEAM PASSES TO THE WORLD CUP RUSSIA 2018
Four years ago, Panama was in shock when the United States soccer team scored two goals, in injury time, and eliminated Panamanians of the World Cup that Brazil organized in 2014. Now things were different, as the the team, led by the Colombian Hernán Darío “Bolillo” Gómez, surpassed all the forecasts and, thanks to an agonizing victory over Costa Rica, in the “Rommel Fernández” stadium, ensured its first participation in a Cup.
Panama began the classification process in the Concacaf’s fourth phase, as part of the B group, along with Haiti, Jamaica and Costa Rica. It seemed to be a difficult round; however, the Panamanians did not have much trouble moving forward, because the Caribbean teams were below expectations. With 10 points in six games, Panama finished in second place and advanced to the hexagonal final. This time FIFA granted the region three direct tickets and the possibility of the fourth place to play the rematch, against an Oceania team.
The Panamanians arrived at the last date of the hexagonal in a very complicated position, mainly because in the previous date they had fallen thrashed, 4-0, against the United States. To get the ticket they needed to beat Costa Rica and the Americans to give up against Trinidad and Tobago. The results combination looked difficult; however, it happened. In the “Rommel Fernandez”, the locals started below, but they equalized by a controversial goal by Gabriel Torres (the ball never actually entered the goal line) and then, in the final moments, Román Torres appeared, with a saving score, in the 88th minute, which gave the ticket to Russia. The euphoria was so great that President Juan Carlos Varela decreed the following day as festive, so that the town could enjoy the greatest sporting success in Panama’s history.
IRVING SALADINO’S OLYMPIC JUMP
Only two Panamanians have obtained medals in Olympic Games. At the 1948 event, Lloyd LaBeach won two bronze medals in athletics’ 100 and 200 meters. Six decades later, Irving Saladino, a 25-year-old at that time, born in Ciudad de Colón (Colon City), made history on August 18, when he won the long jump, at the 2008 Beijing Games, with a stretch up to the 8.34 meters.
Saladino committed a foul on his first attempt, then jumped 8.17 meters and, on his third try, improved to 8.21 meters. With that result, he placed himself ahead of the competition; however, the South African Khotso Mokoena achieved 8.24 meters and this introduced an extra dose of pressure on the Panamanian. The threat didn’t last long, since in his fourth attempt he reached the 8.34 that were unattainable. In addition to the Olympic title, Saladino was world champion in Osaka 2007 and gold-medal winner in the Rio de Janeiro’s Pan-American Games, that same year.
THE FIFTH WORLD SERIES RING FOR THE BEST CLOSER IN HISTORY
On November 4, 2009, the New York Yankees faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series’ sixth game. Los Mulos went ahead 3-2 and hoped to close the title in front of their fans. The match seemed to go one way, 7-1; however, the Phillies closed the score 7-3 and, in the eighth inning, with one out, manager Joe Girardi did not want to wait any longer and brought in Mariano Rivera, who is considered the best closer of all time. “Mo” did his job and stopped the Philadelphia offense, for 1.1 innings of action, to ensure the Yankees won their 27th title.
This was the last time Rivera pitched in the Fall Classic. The Panamanian won five champion rings, always with the Yankees, in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. In the 1999 Series, he was recognized as the Most Valuable Player, for his brilliant work against the Atlanta Braves. In total, Rivera saved 652 games, more than any other pitcher in the history of the Majors and in postseasons, he was unhittable: ended with an earned runs average of just 0.70 and saved 42 games, 11 of them in World Series.
THE CROWN OF “MANO DE PIEDRA”
Roberto “Stone Hand” Duran is considered the best lightweight (135 pounds) in the history of boxing and one of the most complete Latin American fighters, of any weight, at all times. In June of 1972, he was proclaimed world champion of the lightweight, by overcoming by technical KO Scotsman Ken Buchanan. For seven years, the Panamanian was invincible and successfully defended his crown in 12 fights. In 1979 he decided to move up to the welterweight (147 pounds) and, after a series of triumphs, he won the right to challenge the great Sugar Ray Leonard. On June 20, 1980, Duran’s most important fight took place. The press called it “the Montreal fight” and more than 46 thousand spectators present at the Canadian city Olympic Stadium had the opportunity to witness that duel, in which the world welterweight title was disputed, in a World Council of Boxing version. The judges, unanimously, saw Duran win, who hit the most accurate shots throughout the 15 rounds. Later, Leonard won in the rematch, held in New Orleans, but in the memory of Panamanian sport was saved forever the unforgettable night of Montreal, when “Stone Hand” touched the sky.
ROD CAREW, A BASEBALL IMMORTAL
Carew is known as one of the best hitters of all time in the Majors. Between 1967 and 1985, he played with the Minnesota Twins and the California Angels. He won seven hitting crowns in the American League (1969, 1972-1975, 1977, 1978) and in 1977 was elected as MVP of that league. For 15 consecutive seasons, Carew averaged over 300 and in five opportunities exceeded 350. In total, he batted 3053 hits and finished with an average of 328. Panama’s National Stadium is named after him.
On July 21, 1991, in his first year of eligibility, Carew was exalted to Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame, receiving 90.5% of the vote, and thus became the first and only Panamanian player (for now) to be included in this venue.