Latin American and U.S. Latino athletes have given the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world countless moments of joy, pride, and hope. Latin American sportswomen and men usually come from disadvantaged backgrounds so their stories of pride and success inspire us even more. It would be almost impossible to enumerate all the triumphs achieved by Latin American athletes, but we are listing the Most Iconic Moments In Sports. Sí se puede!
When Diego Armando Maradona scored the infamous but glorious goal known as “La mano de Dios” (“The hand of God”)
June 22, 1986, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, in a quarterfinals game against bitter rivals England
This has got to be the single most controversial moment in World Cup history. Argentina was facing England in the quarterfinals and Maradona jumped to hit the ball with his head. But thing is, he actually hit it with his hand and the ball penetrated the net. The English were of course appalled, but this event remains one of the most memorable in the long history of joy and drama of the Argentinian national team. We got to also remember that there was some bad blood between Argentina and England at the time, a product of the Falklands War.
When Ana Gabriela Guevara excelled in an Olympic event that was uncharted territory for Latina athletes
2004 Olympic Games, Athens, Greece
Ana Gabriela Guevara, who is now a very controversial politician, gained notoriety for scoring a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. She competed in 400m, a test that Mexican track athletes don’t generally excel. But she proved that she is one of a kind.
When Mexican boxing legend Julio César Chávez pulled off a miracle and knocked out Meldrick Taylor in the last few seconds of their championship unification fight
March 17, 1990, Las Vegas, Nevada
In a rare encounter, the world’s two best boxers met for a unification fight. Both were unbeaten and Chávez was heralded as a national hero in his native Mexico. The fight was as tough as it gets, with both boxers sustaining enormous amounts of punishment. With 17 seconds left on the clock and behind in the scorecards Julio César connected with a massive right hand. The contest was stopped with two seconds left: a boxing miracle of the highest order.
When Fernando Valenzuela became a baseball hero and an icon of Mexican-American pride and excellence
Fernando “El Toro” Valenzuela became an icon of Latino sportsmanship after an excellent 1981 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was one of the first Mexicans to break into the mainstream in the United States. He inspired and continues to inspire, millions of paisanos. He was an All-Star in each season of his incredible 1981-1986 run.
When Gabriela Sabatini demonstrated that Latinas can excel in the tennis court
US Open, 1990, Womens’ Tennis champion!
Tennis is a perilous sport for Latin Americans because it is mostly dominated by the United States and Europe. But Gaby Sabatini showed that Latino girls can be ace too! She won the U.S. Open in 1990, defeating the German Stefi Graf. Una dama del deporte blanco en toda la extensión de la palabra.
When Colombian dynamo Nairo Quintana reached the stars on his bike
Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas is perhaps the greatest Colombian cyclist of all time. That is a big claim considering the long and glorious history of the sport in Colombia. Quintana is known for his sustained attacks during steep hills: when most of his adversaries struggle, he has his best performance. He was won multiple stages of the Tour de France and the Giro di Italia.
When Felipe “Tibio” Muñoz swam toward a gold medal and got a whole country celebrating after some pretty traumatizing events
1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City
Prior to the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Mexicans had experienced a traumatizing event when the army attacked a group of students and civilians who were protesting at the Tlatelolco Square. The country was split emotionally and politically. But then came “El Tibio” and at least for a brief moment, the country was united behind a young man who swam his way to a gold medal. The memory of his accomplishment is still brought up today when thinking of the greatest sporting moments in Latin American history.
When Ecuadorian athlete Jefferson Perez won an Olympic gold medal in the Atlanta Olympic Games
Atlanta Olympic Games, 1996
Ecuador doesn’t have a strong Olympic team, and medals have been few and far in between. That is why Jefferson Perez is a standout in the sporting history of this proud South American nation. During the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Perez did the unthinkable. As Rihannon Walker writes in The Undefeated: “Ecuador’s Jefferson Pérez, Russia’s Ilya Markov and Mexico’s Bernardo Segura struggled to find separation from one another as they neared the finish of the 20-kilometer walk at the 1996 Olympics. Then Pérez began to take advantage of having the youngest legs of the trio and powered himself into the lead. As a crowd of 85,000 waited to see who would be the first to appear at Olympic Stadium, Pérez made a dramatic solo entrance and finished in 1 hour, 20 minutes and 7 seconds to become the youngest gold medalist in the 20-km event at 22. His victory also secured Ecuador’s first Olympic medal.” Just wow, a moment to remember forever.
When Teófilo Stevenson reigned supreme in amateur boxing. Viva Cuba!
1972, 1975, and 1980 Olympic Games in Munich, Montreal, and Moscow
In the 1970s Muhammad Ali was the greatest name in heavyweight boxing, but he was perhaps not the best. Many believe that amateur legend Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba would have beat the great Ali. But, alas, Cuban boxers were not allowed to turn professional and a fight between the two never materialized. Stevenson’s amateur career extended 20 years, from 1969 to 1986. He won a total of three gold medals, un logro extraordinario.
When “Las espectaculares morenas del Caribe” Cuban female volleyball team captured the world’s imagination and won three consecutive Olympic gold medals
Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
This group of amazing Cuban ladies totally dominated volleyball for three Olympic Games, and then won the bronze in their fourth attempt. Puro Cuba!
When Costa Rican swimmer Claudia Poll surprised everyone and became a national icon
Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games
This amazing woman was born in Nicaragua but later became a Costa Rican citizen. She won a gold medal in the Atlanta Games (a big year for Latino athletes!) and is considered the greatest sports figure in the history of the Central American nation. She also won two bronze medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. A true force of nature.
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