The Rio de Janeiro edition of the Olympic Games is about to be half the way, so this is a timely moment to assess the best performances to date, both in individual and team competitions, delivered by Latin American athletes and teams.
Only three countries from the region (Colombia, Brazil and Argentina) have won at least one medal, but this situation is certainly going to change in the second half of the Games, since Cuba has strong candidates to get medals in several sports, especially in boxing.
So far, three Latin American athletes have been on top of the podium: two women (judo) and a man (weightlifting). On the other hand, the two silver medals are taken by sport shooting and judo.
Paula Pareto (Argentina, Gold in Judo, 48 kg Division)
In her third Olympic performance, Argentinean judoka Paula Pareto obtained the gold medal in the 48 kg division, by defeating South Korean Bokyeong Jeong in the final combat.
Pareto had already won the bronze in Beijing 2008, but she remarkably improved that result. “That’s an incentive for those who think they cannot win a world championship. I’m here, I still can’t believe it, but it can actually be done,” Pareto said.
Oscar Figueroa (Colombia, Gold in Weightlifting, 62 kg Division)
After 16 years without a single gold medal in weightlifting, Latin America is back on track thanks to Colombian Oscar Figueroa’s win in the 62 kg division.
33-year-old Figueroa is an experienced athlete, who conquered the silver medal in London 2012; but there were some doubts in terms of his true chances in Rio, since he underwent surgery in January due to a hernia.
The Colombian athlete successfully recovered and the competition with 318 kg (142 in snatch and 176 in jerk).
Rafaela Silva (Brazil, Gold in Judo, 57 kg Division)
Brazilian judoka Rafaela Silva cried with huge emotion after she defeated Mongolian Sumiya Dorjsuren in the 57 kg final. This was the first gold medal for the country that organized the Games.
“It’s been a long way, but it was worth it. Thanks a million for your supporting messages,” Silva said.
Felipe Almeida Wu (Brazil, Silver in Air Gun)
The 10 m air gun final competition was an unforgettable moment for both Vietnam and Brazil. Hoang Xuan Vinh won the event and became the first Olympic champion in that Asian nation’s history. 41-year-old Hoang totaled 202.5 points, a new record in that competition. He was followed by Brazilian Felipe Almeida, who finished with 202.1 points and wrote his name on the record books as that country’s first shooting medalist since 1920.
Yuri Alvear (Colombia, Silver in Judo, 70 kg Division)
Colombian Yuri Alvear also made history for her country by becoming the first judoka to conquer an Olympic silver medal in judo. Four years ago, in London, Alvear won the bronze and she now fought for the title against Japanese Haruka Tachimoto, who immobilized her and deserved an ippon victory.
Alvear was Colombia’s standard-bearer in the opening ceremony of the Games and she had to fight her way up to the silver, because two out of her three fights before the final ended in extra time. In those moments of tension, the South American judoka was very aggressive and beat Puerto Rican Maria Perez and British Sally Conway.
WOMEN’S SOCCER AND VOLLEYBALL, BRAZIL’S BEST TEAM PERFORMANCES
As for team sports, several Latin American teams have stood out and seem to be ready to fight for a medal.
Brazil’s women’s volleyball team is surrounded by the highest expectations and it’s trying to win its third Olympic title in a row. Holding the second position in the world ranking, right behind the United States, the Brazilian players, coached by Jose Guimaraes, have been great in the three games played to date, with 3-0 wins against Argentina, Cameroon and Japan.
Latin America’s soccer hopes were high, but two of the countries with deeply-rooted tradition were eliminated in the qualifying round. Mexico was undoubtedly the biggest letdown, since it was the champion back in London 2012 and it now barely got four points, finished third and returned home. Something similar happened to Argentina, in Group D.
The region will be represented by four countries in quarterfinals: Brazil, which defeated Denmark 4-0 and improved the terrible image shown in the first two games, when the team didn’t score a single goal; Colombia was the second team in Group B and Honduras was the great surprise of the event by prevailing over Argentina.
Unlike what happened with the men’s team, Brazilian soccer players, led by Marta Vieira da Silva, easily let the qualifying round behind, with two wins against Sweden (5-1) and China (3-0) and no-goal tie with South Africa. In quarterfinals, they are the favorites to defeat Australia.
As for men’s basketball, the Argentinean team has been superb, with two triumphs: an easy one against Nigeria (94-66) and a close one against Croatia (90-82); while, Brazil lost against Lithuania (82-76), but it surprisingly beat Spain (66-65).