The Olympics in Tokyo is like none other in history. After being postponed for a year due to the pandemic, the games are being held while Japan is still under a declared state of emergency for Covid-19. Instead of thousands of spectators cheering from the stands, reporters and cameras are the only audience for the athletes who have long awaited their opportunity to perform.
The United States has 621 athletes representing their homeland in Tokyo, of 11,360 athletes from all over the world. Latinos and Latinas on the US team are a disproportionately low percentage of the total, as compared to their share of the US population. But there are a group of dedicated, disciplined Latino/a athletes contributing to the diversity of the country’s Olympians and paving the way for others by serving as role models for what can be achieved.
Some of the Latino/a Olympians include:
Anita Alvarez, swimmer from Kenmore, NY
Eddy Alvarez, Cuban American baseball player from Miami, FL
Devin Booker, Mexican American and Puerto Rican basketball player from Grand Rapids, MI
Tristan Casas, Cuban American baseball player from Plantation, FL
Angelica Delgado, Cuban-American judoka from Miami, FL
Rachel Garcia, softball player from Palmdale, CA
Jack Lopez, Puerto Rican baseball player from Rio Piedras, PR
Jennifer Mucino-Fernandez, Mexican American archer from Boston, MA
Pedro Pascual, Mexican American sailor from Miami, FL
Yarisel Ramirez, Cuban American boxer from Las Vegas, NV
Yeisser Ramirez, Cuban American fencer from Brooklyn, NY
Sarah Robles, Mexican American weightlifter from League City, TX
Alejandro Sancho, Cuban American wrestler from Miami, FL
Ariel Torres, Cuban American karateka from Hialeah, FL
Richard Torrez, Jr, Mexican American boxer from Tulare, CA
All these athletes have different stories of dreaming and persevering. They range in age from 18 to 34 and found their inspiration in different ways over the course of their lives. They build on the legacy of those who have come before, starting with Ramón “El Nunca Segundo” Fonts Segundo, the Cuban man who became the first Latino to win an Olympic medal. Competing in Paris in 1900, he was only 17 years old, and came in first to take the gold medal in fencing. Many others have captured the world’s imagination since then, breaking records, like swimmer Pablo Morales and runner Alberto Juantorena; and forging new frontiers, like Mexican American Tracee Talavera who became the first Latina gymnast on the US team.
Of all Latin-American countries, Cuba ranks highest in medals won per capita. According to researchers and statisticians, countries with a communist system of governance tend to excel in the Olympics, irrespective of the country’s wealth or population size, because communist governments exert centralized control over their athletic training programs. However, for Latinos in the United States, financial resources are the key to pursuing an Olympic dream. Families with greater access to the resources needed for equipment, travel, and training can more easily provide these opportunities for their children. Appropriate representation of Latinos on the US Olympic team requires addressing the economic inequalities that keep them from being able to develop their skills and talents. The 2021 Tokyo Olympics provides just one more timely reminder of the need to continue advocating for equal opportunities for all.