Latin American women earned the most medals of any year this Olympics; 6 gold, 11 silver and 7 bronze, for a total of 24. I’ll present what I’ve found about 7 of these great Latin American women. Their stories are inspiring, showing talent and determination. Brazil (21) and Cuba (15) won the most medals overall of the Portuguese and Spanish-speaking Americas.
- Brazilian Rebeca Andrade – All Around Gymnastics Silver and Artistic Gymnastics Gold
Rebeca Andrade’s road to an Olympic silver and gold medal was extremely difficult. Although she began gymnastics when she was 4, she grew up in a family of very limited resources, with six brothers and sisters. Her mom walked to work to save the money to pay for Rebeca’s gymnastics classes. Her older brother took Rebeca to class on his bicycle. When her family fell on hard times, sometimes she could not afford to train. Due to a serious LCA (knee ligament) injury, Rebeca underwent three surgeries in the past 5 years. Throughout her training, she studied with the same coach, Francisco Porath, whom she credits as key to her success for his support and encouragement.
2. Brazilian Ana Marcela Cunha – Open Water Swimming Gold Medal
This athlete was 2 years old when she took her first swimming lessons. Over the years she has won gold five times at the World Championships and won medals 7 other times in her 14 years of open water swimming competition. She persevered in the Olympics although she finished 8th in Beijing 2008 and 10th place in Rio 2016. In 2019, Cunha announced her engagement to Brazilian water polo player Diana Abla, who earned a bronze medal in the Pan American Games. After the Olympics, she and Diana Abla plan to marry.
3. Brazilian Rayssa Leal – Street Skateboarding Silver
Born in Imperatriz, Brasil, Jhulia Rayssa Mendes Leal is called A Fadinha do Skate (The Skate Fairy) for the outfit she wore in a internationally viral skateboarding video when she was eight. Check “Skate Fairy” on YouTube. Rayssa Leal began skateboarding 7 years ago in 2014. By 2015, she was winning championships. At 13, Rayssa is the youngest Brazilian athlete to ever compete in the Olympics.
4. Colombian Mariana Pajón – BMX Racing Silver
Mariana Pajón began cycling when she was 3, and began racing boys at 4. She competed with boys because girls’ events did not exist. Pajón won her first national competition at the age of 5. Mariana Pajón won BMX Gold medals in London 2012 and Río 2016. Her London win was the second Olympic medal in Colombian history. She now has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals.
5. Cuban Idalys Ortiz – Judo Silver (+78 kg)
Idalys Ortiz is 30 years old, she began judo when she was 10. She trained in the Cuban School for Sports (EIDE). By 15 she was a member of the Cuban national team. Ortiz won four consecutive Olympic medals: A Bronze in Beijing 2008, Gold in London 2012, Silver in Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020! She is one of the most accomplished female judokas (people who practice judo) in the world.
6. Ecuadorian Neisi Dajomes – Weightlifting Gold (76 kg)
Neisi Dajomes was the first woman to win a gold medal for Ecuador! Her family are originally from Colombia. She dedicated her medal to her mother who passed away in 2019 and her brother who passed away in 2018. When she was 11, she watched her brother weightlifting. The coaches invited her to try. She practiced the lifting technique with a broom handle at home and could lift 10 kilos by the next day. At 15, she won the world championship in Peru in the Under 17 category. She’s won gold at the Panamerican Games 2017-2019.
7. Dominicana Crismery Santana – Weightlifting Bronze (87 kg)
Crismery Santana is the first Dominican woman to win an individual Olympic medal! She lifted 267kg, three times her own weight!
Latin American women broke records, broke stereotypes and did themselves proud in Tokyo 2020.
Which story is the most interesting or inspiring to you?