By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
For Fox Deportes
They will come home to the United States with medals, and they will be the pride of their respective communities. They will also be sources of pride for the diverse Latino communities of the nation.
American Latinos are making their mark everywhere else, so why not at the London Olympics?
New York’s Felix Sanchez, of Dominican descent, tops the list. Competing for the Dominican Republic, the former USC Trojan won gold in the 400-meter hurdles (Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson got the bronze), then let the tears flow as he stood on the medal stand.
Sanchez competed in his fourth Olympics, and is such a sports hero in the Dominican that the Olympic Stadium in Santo Domingo is named in his honor. He’s living proof that Dominicans aren’t just baseball players.
Leo Manzano rekindled memories of Oscar de la Hoya in 1992 at Barcelona when, after an amazing finishing kick in the last 150 meters that got him the silver medal in the 1,500 meters in track, he carried both the American and Mexican flags. Manzano was born in central Mexico but came to the U.S. with his family at age 4. Now 27, he became the first American to medal in the 1,500 since Jim Ryun in 1968.
Manzano, who grew up in Texas and ran in college for the Longhorns, didn’t stop at celebrating. He made clear in post-run comments that he wants to be an example to youth that anything is possible, even if you come from very humble beginnings.
Like Manzano, Brenda Villa of the Los Angeles area seeks to make a difference for youth. In fact, she’s long been doing so. That gold medal she helped the U.S. women’s water polo team win Thursday can only help her cause.
Marlen Esparza fell short of her gold medal dream, but the boxer from the Houston area earned a bronze, and although she has said she’s retiring from the ring at age 23, it might be tough to turn down more sponsorships and professional boxing.
The U.S. men’s gymnastics team didn’t perform well overall in London, but Cuban-born Danell Leyva got a bronze medal in the individual all-around competition. He’s certainly an inspiration, just like the other athletes, that Latino kids, with hard work and dedication, can succeed in non-traditional sports like gymnastics, water polo, distance running an hurdles.
And it doesn’t stop there. Steven Lopez of Texas is already a two-time Olympic champion in taekwondo, and still had shot at a medal as of Thursday afternoon. Southern California native Diana Taurasi, with Argentine roots, seeks another gold medal with her USA women’s basketball team, and it seems almost certain to happen.
Most of the names above aren’t ones many people would hear often. These folks weren’t well known world wide (with the exception of Taurasi, perhaps), and yet they have shined on the world’s stage. Hopefully they inspire the next generation of U.S. Latino Olympians.