Costa Rica completed its participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on August 6 and, although it did not win medals, it did make history: For the first time, its delegation placed four athletes in the best 10 places in their respective disciplines.
The most prominent was BMX Freestyle rider Kenneth Tencio, who finished fourth and was just 0.30 points from claiming bronze.
“I waited and fought a lot for this moment, I gave everything and I will continue to give it. Don’t stop fighting for your dreams, we are fourth in the world in freestyle,” said Tencio, who at the age of 27 says he will now focus on Paris 2024.
Tencio had an extraordinary performance, but was separated from the podium by British rider Declan Brooks (90.50 to 90.80). His position was the best for a Costa Rican not surnamed Poll.
Costa Rica has not won an Olympic medal since swimmer Claudia Poll earned two bronzes in Athens 2000. Four years earlier she won a gold in Atlanta 1996, and her sister Sylvia took silver in Seoul 1988.
Also close this year was surfer Brisa Hennessy, eliminated in the quarterfinals and who was credited with a fifth-place finish.
Like Tencio, the surfer received an Olympic diploma, an award given to those who finish their competition between fourth and sixth place since London 1948 and from fourth to eighth place since Los Angeles 1984.
Previously, only the mountain biker José Andrés Brenes, in 1996, had achieved a diploma for Costa Rica.
“I came to the Olympics with the dream of winning a medal and making Costa Rica proud and inspiring a girl to jump into the ocean. I didn’t win one, but I came away with something else: Costa Rica’s overwhelming sense of love and honor,” said Hennesy, who is 21 years old and lived until nine on a Costa Rican beach before moving to Hawaii.
Another Tica in the top ten was the athlete Andrea Vargas, who was very close to being among the eight finalists in the women’s 100 meters hurdles. Only 0.02 seconds prevented her from being able to fight for a medal.
The 12:69 time of her semifinal would have earned fifth place in the final. That time was the second best of her career (12:64, in 2019) and allowed her to secure participation in the Oregon World Athletics Championships in 2022.
Her official position in the competition on Japanese soil was ninth.
“I am leaving my first Games with many lessons: I did the best I could and I feel very happy to have fought at the world level and achieved qualification for the next World Cup (…). In addition, Paris 2024 is just around the corner,” said the 25-year-old runner, a law graduate and mother.
The judoka Ian Sancho was also part of the Costa Rican historical journey, since he was the first Tico in his sport to win a match in the Olympic jousts.
Sancho would fall in the round of 16 to the Korean An Ba-ul, who finished with the bronze medal on his chest. The Costa Rican was credited with ninth place by the instance in which he was eliminated.
Costa Rica reached the Olympics with 13 athletes: 11 classified, a figure that is also the highest in the country’s history, and two invited by the organization.
Among those 11 was Luciana Alvarado, the first Costa Rican gymnast to participate in an Olympiad. She finished 51st out of 85; however, she drew international attention for ending her floor routine with a gesture in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, an action that had not been seen before in this discipline. Alvarado is Afro-descendant through her mother and her coach, Sheilly Reid.
Noelia Vargas, Andrea’s sister, closed participation for the Ticos in Japan on Friday, in the 20 km race walk. She was 21st out of 60 women.
Costa Rica could have had one more athlete, surfer Carlos Muñoz, who was invited at the last minute due to a case of Covid-19 among other participants. However, after overcoming obstacles to find a flight to Japan, he didn’t make it to his competition heat on time to participate.