London 2012 Olympics: An Olympic Revolution in Colombia, A Phenomenal Role Model

Colombia: Latin America’s Finest Intelligentsia

Unfortunately, Colombia has one of the worst tragedies in Latin America. Colombia faces more internal troubles than many war-torn countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In the Post-Cold War era, it is one of the two countries, together with Peru, in the Western Hemisphere to continue its long-standing war against rebel groups. In the 1960s, a civil conflict broke out between the government and the rebel groups, led by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Since that decade, Colombia’s armed conflict has claimed 200,000 lives and caused more than $15,000 million in damage inflicted. During the past half-century, Colombia was home to at least five rebel groups, most of them with close ties to drug traffickers. Over a period of seven years, between 1984 and 1990, four major politicians were killed.

Incredibly, it is one of the most mine-ridden countries on Earth, along with the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Portuguese-speaking country of Angola (Southern Africa). In the meantime, most of the country’s rich ecology has been devastated by narco-traffickers. But that isn’t all. Indigenous tribes have been killed or enslaved by rebel groups in the Amazonian region. On the other side, there are over three million internal refugees, which is described by the United Nations as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the Americas”. But contrary to what you may think, these hurdles don’t have destroyed Colombia in the last decades.

In many ways, its difficult history has inspired to many Colombians to conquer wins, from literature to sports and music. For these and other reasons, I think that Colombia is an extraordinary and admirable country on the Planet.

By 1982, a Colombian author won the Nobel Prize for Literature. This amazing land is also birthplace of Manuel Elkin Patarroyo (my favorite Colombian), among the world’s most prominent scientifics, and Fernando Botero, whose paintings are being shown in London, Paris, New York City and other Western cities.

Apart from their hard working people, Colombia is well-known around the globe for its performers such as Shakira, Juanes and Carlos Vives -as well as their beauty queens like Luz Marina Zuluaga or Aura Maria Mojica (“the most beautiful girl of Colombia”). But it has other notable achievements on the global stage, of course. Colombia’s reputation as a warn-torn country has been overshadowed by a successful tourism industry with the marketing slogan “Colombia is Passion”. Bogota, its modern and friendly capital, and other cities have more foreign visitors than Peru, Bolivia, and many peaceful republics from Latin America.

Certainly, Colombia is not an oil-rich country — as Venezuela and Ecuador— but it has Latin America’s finest intelligentsia. As a result of this, the country is a major democracy -has not had coups and countercoups for more than half-century– on the continent since the 1950s and has won praise from Washington for its war against cocaine cartels.

But now Colombia has gained praise for its Olympic revolution. Although suffering a brutal civil conflict since the 1960s, the South American republic is producing top athletes in the 21st Century. Because of its troubles, Colombia should be one of the lowest-ranked Olympic teams in the Third World, but therea are other results. In practice, incredibly, the conflict has not been an impediment to produce Pan American champs and Olympic medalists. Probably, there is no other Olympic squad on the Planet who would be fighting with big passion and dedication. Other notable chapter in the modern history of Colombia, of course.

Like many industrialized societies such as America, Japan, China, Spain and Britain, sport plays a key role on Colombian soil. In spite of being a football-loving, there is a “big passion” for other sports. Increasing number of young athletes are entering such sports triathlon, gymnastics, and taekwondo. At least 80% of the country’s international medals came from athletics, gymnastics, and weightlifting. Prior to 21st century,however, Colombia was well-known abroad for producing only footballers, cyclists, and long-distance runners-this should sound familiar to some Latin American nations

In the Golden Age of Colombian Sport

Several Latin American republics can not offer much to their athletes, athletic administrators, and coaches, but Colombia has become an Olympic paradise in recent years. Amidst obstacles, sport appears as one of goverment’s top priorities.

After gaining its first Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games with Maria Isabel Urrutia (women’s weightlifting), this nation has embarked on an ambitious program to improve the country’s Olympic sport.

In the past, the Colombian administration hosted many international meets, after building several athletic facilities in towns and cities, but they failed to produce world-class athletes. Because the 400th anniversary of the Colombian capital,Bogota hosted the First Bolivarian Games at the turn of the 1930s. Eight years later, by 1946, the Central American and Caribbean Games were held in Barranquilla. This city also was chosen to hold the IV Bolivarian Games in the early 1960s. Over the next decade, in July 1971, Cali was site of the Sixth Pan American Games. A year after hosting the FINA Aquatics World Championships -the major global event held in Latin America since 1970, Colombia won the right to hold the Women’s Basketball Global Cup in 1975. Three years later, Medellin was site of the Central American and Caribbean Games. By 1982, the Men’s Basketball World Cup was held in many Colombian cities. Since then, these efforts to promote sports had been relatively unsuccessful. In those days, the ill-equipped team from Colombia had difficult tournaments at home. By 1982, for example, the host country was the second country, along with Cote d’Ivoire (Western Africa), without wins in the FIBA Championships, losing their sixth matches; in one of its games, Colombia was defeated by the USSR 143-76.

Annually, in this century, the Colombian state has invested over $200 million in the Olympic project, putting their eyes on zones devastated by poverty, local drug traffickers, and juvenile delinquency- a front-line state in the war against drug trafficking. In its efforts to combat criminal violence in poor neighborhoods and war-torn places, sport is backed strongly by the government and other organizations. Today these warn-torn regions are home of national-class athletes, from boxers and footballers to taekwondo fighters, wrestlers and long-distance runners. In fact, some of Colombia’s athletes did not grow up like normal boys. However, today they want to show the good side of Colombia with their international achievements -from records to medals.

Since then, this budget allows the Colombian Olympic Committee (and other sports institutions) to provide the population with one of Latin America’s best Olympic systems. On the other side, physical education is a compulsory in all schools, from Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, and Cali to Cucuta and Manizales.

By 2007, the athletic contingent placed sixth in the XV Pan American Games in Brazil, earning a total of 14 gold, 21 silver, and 13 bronze medals. Here, Colombia began to eclipse many Latin American countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela. Nonetheless, the story of a country transformed from a warn-torn country into an Olympic paradise occurred when the nation’s 2010 Olympian team picked up a total of 372 medals in the South American Games on home soil, surpassing athletes from 14 countries and dependencies. Deservedly, at home, Colombia’s sportsmen and women won 144 golds, 124 silvers, and 104 bronzes. Apart from earning regional medals, the Colombian athletes made international headlines when they defeated Brazil in the medal count—Brazil is one of the top Olympian nations in the developing world and a powerhouse in football, judo, sailing and volleyball (indoor and beach). Then, Colombia was the fourth best Olympic team in Latin America at the Pan American Games last year. Here, the nations’ total medals were 84 — 24 gold, 25 silver, and 35 bronze.

From Basketball and Gymnastics to Waterpolo

Today, Colombia is a leader in numerous sports on the continent and in some fields an international leader. The most important advances have been made in the following disciplines:

Basketball: The national women’s squad, under Sofia Nieto’s leadership, placed sixth in the 1975 Mexico Pan American Sports Games by losing to Canada 68-58. On the other side, the then USSR defeated the host Colombia 92-34 in the FIBA World Cup in the same year. But more than three decades later, the national side was one of the three medalists in the regional championships. Then, Colombia’s female players went on to represent South America at the 2011 Pan American Games at Guadalajara (Mexico), where they reached the semis— its best performance since the mid-1980s when the team became the sixth South American squad to gain gold in the Continental Cups. In Guadalajara, Colombia again faced Canada — a powerhouse in women’s basketball in the Americas– but this time the Colombians controlled the game 59-67. This win put Colombia in fourth place in the Pan American championship.

Cycling: By 2004, at the Athens Summer Games, Maria Calle became one the first Latino athletes in women’s cycling to became one of the medalists in the Olympics. Seven years on, the Colombian squad won the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara (Mexico).

Gymnastics: In past decades, Colombia’s gymnasts were defeated by athletes from Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela in the Continental championships. Now, they are one of the top teams not only in the region, but in the Western Hemisphere, together with Brazil, Canada, and the United States. The Colombian gymnasts have won medals in the recent Pan American Games, gaining the right to represent the continent at the London 2012 Games. In Mexico, Jossimar Orlando Calvo earned gold (men’s individual all-round) and silver ( horizontal bars), meanwhile his fellow Colombian gymnast Jorge Giraldo obtained three silvers ( artistic individual all-around, pommel horse, parallel bars). Additionally, other Colombian, Jorge Pena, won bronze in the men’s pommel horse. In women’s gymnastics, Catalina Escobar placed third in vault.

Soccer: The 2012 soccer team will be the first female team from Colombia to attend the Summer Olympics. Colombia’s road to becoming one of the sixteen football teams in London 2012 began when the national contingent won a berth in the Continental championship in Ecuador following a triumph over Argentina (1-0). The team was among the top four in the Pan Amertican Games last year. Like in most Third World countries, soccer -or football– is a national passion on Colombian soil, followed by baseball and boxing.

Taekwondo: Colombia has a particular interest in the martial arts, competing at the highest level with the top teams in the world. Among the country’s finest athletes was Gladys Alicia Mora Romero, who was one of the world’s top five female fighters in the 49-kg category in the 2004 Games. Last year, Doris Patiyo was runner-up in the Taekwondo Pan American Championship.

Tennis: Colombia began to make a name for itself in the tennis world by winning two golds in the 2011 Pan American Games, defeating many favorites in the first rounds and semis. The new Pan American champions were Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. In women’s tennis, Catalina Castaño and Mariana Duque captured bronze in doubles.

Track-and-field: During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Colombia was well-known in the region for its track stars such as Eucaris Caicedo (100m, 200m, 400m), Alvaro Mejia (marathon), Domingo Tibaduiza (5,000m & 10,000m), Jose Querubin Moreno ( 20-kilometer walk), Victor Mora (marathon, 5,000m, 10,000m), and Ximena Restrepo (100m, 200m and 400m as well as 4x100m relay). In the following century, the country is producing new top athletes — hurdles, long distance runners, long jumpers, racewalkers, and sprinters. At the 2011 Athletics South American Championship, the Colombian delegation was runner, behind Brazil. That year, Catherine Ibarguen put the Colombian flag on the sporting map as she had the distinction of being one of the few Latino athletes to conquer a place as medalist in the IAAF Global Tournament in South Korea. Also, Colombia finished fifth overall in the Pan American tournament, behind Cuba, Brazil, America, and Mexico. Here, the country’s delegation picked a total of 17 medals—3 gold, 5 silver, and 9 bronze. All three gold medals were won by female athletes — Jennifer Padilla (400m), Ibarguen (triple jump), and Princesa Oliveros (400m hurdles).

Volleyball: After decades of gradual decline, the women’s indoor side has become one of the eight most outstanding squads in the Western Hemisphere in the 2010s, winning important matches in the international meets. Its coach is a Brazilian. At the 2012 Continental Olympic Qualification on foreign soil, in a stunning upset, Colombia beat Argentina -the world’s top ten team– before losing to Peru 3-2, in an exciting game during the semifinals. Its star Madeleine Montaño is widely regarded as one of the most gifted athletes in the volleyball world and the top scorer in the international competitions. Colombia’s South American Cup volleyball star Montaño plays professionally in Far East.

Waterpolo: Colombia has been involved with the sport since the 1970s when the men’s waterpolo squad, host, came in 16th (last) at the FINA Swimming World Championships. Over the next years it had not good performances until May 2007 when the national squad gained the first edition of the FINA World Men’s Water Polo Development Trophy in Kuwait (Persian Gulf). The winners were Elkin Julian, Nelson Bejarano, Joaquin Ortiz, Sergio Correa Hernandez, John Andrade Lozano, Alex Monroy Henao, Alejandro Idarraga, Felipe Lizaraga Gomez, Jorge Montoya, German Guarnizo Rivera, Carlos Marin Orrego, Enzo Salinas, and Norman Rios.

Wrestling: There are a host of wrestlers (including women) in Bogota, Pereira, Buenaventura and other Colombian cities. Due to this, over the past few years, Colombia has won several international trophies, including one Olympic medal produced by Jackeline Renteria in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Subsequently, the nation’s wrestlers amassed a total of seven medals ( 2 silvers and 5 bronzes) at the 2011 Pan American Sports Games, well ahead of Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

Weightlifting: The country has become an international weightlifting star in a short period of time. Lifter Mabel Mosquera gained national fame by winning a bronze in the Games of the 28th Olympiad in the capital Greek in 2004-the nation’s second weightlifting medal since 2000. In men’s weightlifting, Oscar Alberto Figueroa finished fifth in the 56kg-category at Athens 2004. Seven years on, he was gold medalist in the Pan American Tournament. By 2007, the country earned the women’s junior world championship team title, spearheaded by Leidy Yessenia Solis, in the Global Cup held in Prague (Czech Republic). Then, Diego Fernando Salazar gained a silver in the Olympic Weightlifting Competition at Beijing 2008. But these also wins continued throughout 2011 and 2012 (Pan American Games and Pre-Olympic tournaments). Last year, Colombia’s squad was ranked second in the Western Hemisphere, well ahead of America and Canada.

Colombia At the Summer Games

This South American republic was one of the first Latin American countries on the Olympic stage when it went to its first Olympics in California in 1932. Then, there were national delegations in the next two Games in Germany and Great Britain. Nonetheless, the Colombian representatives did not return to the Summer Games until 1956. From that year, Colombia has competed at each Summer Olympics. Following its participation at Rome’60 and Tokyo’64, the athletic delegation left Bogota for Mexico City to compete in the Olympiad in the late 1960s. On that occasion, the men’s soccer side made its international debut in the Olympian tournaments, finishing ninth ahead of Brazil and the former Czechoslovakia.

After hosting the VI Pan American Games in 1971, Colombia sent a talented squad to the Olympic Games in the West German city of Munich. The Colombian contingent arrived in Munich with more than seventy sportsmen and women. In the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), Helmut Bellingrodt emerged as an interesting athletic figure following his silver medal in the 1972 Shooting Tournament, the nation’s first Olympian medal. By late 1972, he was Colombia’s Athlete of the Year. Three years after being medalist in West Germany, he again became one of the most outstanding Latino athletes in 1974 following his world record in Switzerland.

In Munich’72, the Colombian Olympic Committee also picked up two bronzes in boxing– Clemente Rojas (featherweight) and Alfonso Perez (lightweight). Nonetheless, two Colombian stars, runners Victor Mora and Alvaro Mejia, failed to win medals in the men’s marathon. Mejia finished 48th, meanwhile Mora placed 52nd. From 1966 to 1972, Mejia had won many international meets, including four golds in the Central American and Caribbean Games. In team sports, on the other hand, the football squad -made up of 19 players— again was one of the five competitors from the Americas in the Olympiad -Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala and the U.S. were the others-after qualifying to represent South America in the Games.

During the 1976 Summer Games, Colombia put their eyes on Bellingrodt and Jorge Jaramillo, winner of a pair of golds in the 1974 Central and Caribbean Games in the Dominican Republic. Both athletes had good performances, but could not win medals. Jaramillo -the country’s best male swimmer in the 20th Century, after Pablo Restrepo-was regarded as one of the top Latino swimmers at Montreal 1976. On the other hand, his fellow Colombian athlete Bellingrodt was one of the six finalists in the Shooting Championships.

Colombia Did Not Boycott the Moscow 1980 Games

By the early 1980s, Colombia was one of the few American allies that did not boycott the Olympics — which was urged by U.S. President Jimmy Carter– in the then USSR. On Soviet soil, Colombia’s soccer returned to the Summer Games, placing 10th. Months before embarking to the former Soviet Republic of Russia, they were runners-up to Argentina in he Pre-Olympic Cup on home soil. Despite not having serious rivals due to international boycott – among them Argentina, Ghana, Egypt– the national squad did not even the semis, finishing 10th in the Football Olympic Cup. By contrast, Pablo Restrepo, who had been bronze medalist in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke at the 1979 Pan American Games on Puerto Rico, became the first individual from Colombia to reach the finals in the Olympic Swimming Championships.

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Colombia won its first medal since 1972 when the former world record holder Bellingrodt came close to winning the gold in the men’s running game target (shooting). Mr. Bellingrodt was one of the country’s 39 representatives on U.S. soil, who competing in eight disciplines – archery (1), athletics (5), boxing (6), cycling (5), shooting (15), swimming (1), weightlifting (5), and wrestling(1). Pablo Restrepo, one of the favorites from Latin America to win a medal, finished sixth overall in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke in California.

At Seoul’88, the South American republic earned a bronze in boxing with Jorge Julio Rocha. In the meantime, Ximena Restrepo appeared as a sprinter in the women’s 200m (track-and-field), finishing in 34th place in South Korea. Subsequently, at Barcelona’92, Restrepo became the first female in South America to earn an Olympian medal in athletics when she was one of the world’s three best sprinters in the 400m. During these Games on Spaniard soil, on the other side, the Colombian soccer side qualified for the Olympic Tournament in the Pre-Olympic competition in Latin America, alongside Paraguay, but they did not make the second round.

The country’s top athletes at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics were Carlos Grisales (marathon), Hector Moreno (20-kilometer walk), and Daniel Reyes (boxing). Colombian-born long-distance runner Grisales placed 11th in the men’s marathon, meanwhile his countryman Reyes was semi-finalist in the United States.

London 2012 Olympics

In the 21st Century, Colombia won its first Olympic gold upon Maria Isabel Urrutia’s win in the Weightlifting championships at the 2000 Sydney Games. Before competing in the weightlifting competitions on home soil and abroad, Urrutia was recognized as one of the best among the handful of shot putters from Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, having qualified for the 1988 Seoul Games -where she came in 20th place in the women’s shot put, among 25 competitors.

Colombia obtained two bronzes in cycling and weightlifting in the Games of the 28th Olympiad in Greece in 2004, both medals were won by female Olympians. In the next Games, in the People’s Republic of China, the South American republic also won two medals (silver and bronze) with Diego Fernando Salazar (men’s weighlifting) and Jackeline Renteria ( women’s wrestling).

In July 2012, Colombia will send a powerful delegation to London to attend the XXX Olympic Summer Games -one of Western Hemisphere’s largest Olympic teams. Colombia’s athletic contingent will compete in the following disciplines: Archery, aquatics, beach volleyball, boxing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, gymnastics, judo, sailing, shooting, synchronized swimming, synchronized diving, taekwondo, tennis, track-and-field, women’s football, weightlifting, and wrestling (freestyle and Greco-Roman).

Nearly all of Colombia’s athletes were medalists in the last Pan American Games and South American Games, including some young people with numerous trophies and medals in the junior championships in the Americans and Europe. The nation’s Olympic cycling squad is one of the most powerful on the Planet, following its victory in the 2011 Pan American Games. Its main stars are Hector Paez, Maria Luisa Calle, Marlon Alirio Perez, Juan Arango, Edwin Avila, Arles Castro, Weimar Roldan and Mariana Pujon. Calle won a medal for the country’s Olympic team at the 2004 Athens Games.

In track-and-field, Catherine Ibarguen, one of the three triple jumpers to receive a medal in the IAAF World Championships last year, could become the first female from Colombia to win an Olympian medal in athletics since the early 1990s as Latin America’s star sprinter Ximena Restrepo claimed bronze in the Barcelonese Games. In the Olympic weightlifting competition, Colombia has a strong chance with three Pan American gold medalists— Oscar Figueroa, Mercedes Isabel Perez, and Ubaldina Valoyes. On the other hand, Doris Patiyo (women’s taekwondo), Danilo Cano (men’s shooting), and Cristian Mosquera (men’s wrestling) also are top favorites to reach medals in the United Kingdom.

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