By Jenifer Lamadrid
There’s something about the Olympics that brings a sense of patriotism to an an all time high. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of healthy competition? And given that this is the first time a Latin American Country will host the Olympics here is a list of Latina athletes who we will be cheering on.
- Marta Vieira da Silva (Football, Brasil)
While the name Hope Solo is synonymous with female athletes and women’s football, the title of best footballer actually goes to this 30 year-old Brazilian. Having won the FIFA World Player award 5 consecutive times, the all time goalscorer of the Women’s World Cup, recipient of two golden Boots, and the top goalscorer in the history of Brazilian football (yes both men and women), it’s even more impressive when you take in account that Marta had no formative training until she was 14 years old. And yet the only thing missing from this Latina’s trophy stand is a major championship title. After a promising start with 5-1 victory over the Swedish where she scored two goals, the road to the gold and the hugely coveted championship title is looking good for Marta.
- Mariana Pajon (BMX, Colombia)
Not many athletes can say they won their first world title at the age of nine. Not many athletes can say that they have 35 championship titles. But then again not many athletes are Mariana Pajon. Dubbed the Queen of BMX, Pajon won the Olympic Gold at the 2012 London Olympics (the second Colombian athlete to do so) and while she is the clear favorite for this year’s Rio Olympics, she states that the pressure has not gotten to her and if anything, it has made her more determined to be an inspiration to her country and female athletes everywhere. “Being a woman in this sport is beautiful. We can show people what women can achieve if they try. We are emotional and strong at the same time, with great mental strength.” May la Reina triumph once again.
- Laurie Hernandez (Gymnastics, U.S.A.)
A first time Olympian and the youngest member of the U.S.A. women’s gymnastics, at age 16 this Latina has already won an Olympic Gold alongside her team for best All Around! The first Latina to be on the team since 1984, Hernandez so far finished second in the all-around and earned the highest scores on beam at this year’s games. Her flawless routines are not the only reason that people are buzzing about this young athlete, dubbed the Human Emoji because of her animated routines and shining personalities the young Latins is capturing hearts everywhere. Hernandez still has a chance to win an individual gold at the balance beam final, I know I won’t be the only one wishing her suerte.
- Yarisley Silva (Pole Vault, Cuba)
Pinar de Rio native, Yarisley Silva became the first Latin-American athlete ever to win an Olympic medal in the Pole Vaulting event. Finishing off with a silver medal, the 29 year-old is in pursuit of the gold in her third Olympics. A huge contender for the Olympic Gold after a promising year where she has won the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and won the title of Athlete of the Year by The Association of Athletics North America, Central America and the Caribbean. For this year’s Rio la Cubana is not only determined to win the Olympic Gold but to accomplish her dream of jumping 5 meters over the beam. Suerte paisana!
- Monica Puig (Tennis, Puerto Rico)
While many of the women listed are looking to earn their gold medal, Monica Puig has already made herself a legend. At the Rio Olympics Monica won her first gold at the Tennis final against Germany’s Angelique Kerber. In doing so Puig also became the first athlete to win Olympic Gold for her patria, Puerto Rico! A life long dream for the 22 year-old was achieved as she broke down in tears, the crowd around her chanting “Si se puede!” which translates to yes you can. On her win, Puig addressed the tumultuous time that her country is facing stating, “They [Puerto Rico] are going through some tough times now. And they needed this, I needed this. I feel like I united a nation.” Seeing the outpour of pride from Boriqua’s everywhere I am sure that Puig’s sentiment rings true.
- Caterine Ibargüen (Triple Jump, Colombia)
One of the favorites going into Rio 16 after winning a silver medal in the London Olympics, the two time world champion did not disappoint. On Sunday, Ibaragüen secured her first Olympic Gold, dominating the women’s triple jump gold medal by leaping a massive 15.17m (49 feet, 9 ¼ inches). She became the first athlete to win Olympic gold for her Colombia at this year’s games. The 32 year-old stated, “When I woke up today I said it was the most important day of my life.” Incredibly happy, she went on to remark that while she was content with her 15.17m jump “I am going to keep working for better things.”
- Brenda Martinez (Track and Field, U.S.A.)
Facing struggles is nothing new to Brenda Martinez. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Martinez as a child could not even afford good running shoes and her parents had to pick up second jobs to pay for her track and field fees. Later on in her life she was rejected by two Olympic developing teams and quit the sport to help pay rent. But in the end it all worked out and she fulfilled one of her dreams, being able to compete at the Olympics. Though the 28 year-old was disappointed after her loss, she vowed that she would return to the Olympics. Before her match she remarked “I know there’s not that many Latinas in the sport of track and field, especially competing at a high level, so I think that in itself is a big accomplishment.”
- Rafaela Silva (Judo, Brasil)
Silva hails from the most notorious Brazilian favela Cidade de Deu. At an early age her parents enrolled her in judo to keep her away from the violence in streets. There, Silva found her talent and love. Judo, as she says, gave her a life. But the road to Olympic Gold was not easy for the 24 year-old. After the 2012 Olympics, Silva was the victim of an onset of racist attacks calling her a monkey and that she did not belong at the Olympics but behind bars. Saddened and angered, she thought of quitting Judo altogether and left the sports for months. But Silva rose above this and began training again and at Rio 16, in front of her country, she won Olympic Gold in the women’s 57 –kg in Judo. Silva ran into the audience to hug her family as the crowd erupted into screams. Now being praised as a symbol of hope for Brazilians everywhere she has these words to say: “Keep resisting, don’t give up.”
With athleticism always being dominated by men and a strong sense of machismo still prominent in the Latinx culture these women have taken the games by storm. It will definitely be inspiring to see what women worldwide still have to accomplish in the next four days.
Jen is a 23 year-old Latinx and mujerista from Cuba. With a love of travel she is currently residing in Sydney where she will be pursuing her graduate studies. You can find her on tumblr and instagram.