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Friday, July 12, 2024

Costa Rica and Panama Lead Central America’s Hopefuls at Paris 2024

Central America is heading to the Paris 2024 Olympics with more than 40 athletes but without high expectations, carrying a rather unpromising track record: two gold medals in 128 years. Only Panama and Costa Rica know what it’s like to win a gold medal, while El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua have never won a medal.

Costa Rican swimmer Claudia Poll in Atlanta 1996 and Panamanian jumper Irving Saladino in Beijing 2008 are the only ones who have heard their national anthem from the top of the Olympic podium.

In total, Costa Rica (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronzes), Panama (1 gold, 2 bronzes), and Guatemala (1 silver) save the region’s honor with eight medals in 32 editions of the Olympic Games.

The last Central American athlete to climb the podium was the indigenous Guatemalan Erick Barrondo, second in the 20-kilometer walk in London 2012, who will be in Paris. Central American countries are bringing at least 44 athletes to Paris.

Panama Hopes to Dream

On paper, Panama, with eight athletes, has the best chance to fight for a medal with sprinter and Pan-American champion in the 400 meters hurdles, Gianna Woodruff. This athlete, born 30 years ago in the United States, won gold in Santiago 2023 with a time of 56.44 seconds.

Woodruff was a finalist in the Tokyo Olympics, where she finished seventh. Also noteworthy is gymnast Hillary Heron, the first to replicate a sequence of legendary American gymnast Simone Biles in a world championship. Additionally, boxer and police officer Atheyna Bylon will seek to crown a career that includes an amateur world championship and a silver in the last Pan American Games.

“We are a small country, but we have a lot to give, let’s dream big in Paris,” said the president of the Panama Olympic Committee, Damaris Young.

Costa Rica Bets on Surfing

Costa Rica is bringing six participants, and its main hope comes with a sea breeze. Surfer Brisa Hennessy, fifth in Tokyo 2020, is one of the medal candidates in Paris.

Hennessy, with American parents, qualified directly for the Olympics through the Championship Tour of the World Surf League (WSL), finishing among the top eight. “I hope to win a medal for Costa Rica, I am working very hard and the goal is to carry the Costa Rican flag as high as possible,” said the 24-year-old surfer.

Gerald Drummond, in the 400 meters hurdles, also aims to perform well. This year, he won one of the stages of the Diamond League in Eugene, Oregon (United States).

Guatemala Recovers its Flag

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted the suspension imposed on Guatemala in 2022 for the interference of local justice in the national Olympic committee’s affairs in March of this year. As a result, Guatemalan athletes will be able to participate in the Olympics under their national flag, which they could not do during various competitions in 2023, where they competed as independent athletes due to the sanction.

For Paris, Guatemala presents the largest delegation in the region with 15 athletes, including Barrondo. Their main hope is runner Luis Grijalva, an American dreamer who will compete in the 5,000 meters. At the Budapest 2023 World Athletics Championships, he finished fourth with a time of 13:12.50. These will be Grijalva’s second games, having finished twelfth in Tokyo 2020.

No Olympic Glory

El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua have yet to win an Olympic medal, so obtaining a medal in Paris would be historic for these countries with high poverty rates and no major training centers.

El Salvador has at least eight athletes qualified in various disciplines such as badminton, surfing, or shooting. “It has been enormous to achieve this opportunity,” said Israel Gutiérrez, a sports shooter.

Honduras has some hope in Greco-Roman wrestling with Kevin Mejía. Nicaragua, for its part, arrives at the Games with a roster of four women in surfing, rowing, shooting, and athletics.

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