Brazilian Rebeca Andrade poses with her two gold and silver medals on August 4 in Tokyo.Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
Latin American women have broken records in Tokyo 2020. With six golds, 11 silvers and seven bronzes (adding those of women's and mixed competitions), the athletes have increased the regional medal table, in some cases they have led their delegations and they take home more metals than ever. They have achieved 39.7% of the medals won by athletes in the region, an important achievement considering that they represent less than half of the Olympic delegations in their countries.
The enormous strides of the Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas to break the world record in triple jump, the speed of the Puerto Rican Jasmine Camacho Quinn to jump the hurdles and proclaim herself the winner in the 100 meters, the strength of the Ecuadorian Neisi Dajomes by lifting 263 kilos of shadow her shoulders, the strokes of the Brazilian Ana Marcela Cunha in open water, the perfection of the acrobatics of her compatriot Rebeca Andrade and the mastery of the sail of the duo formed by Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze, also from Brazil, placed their countries at the top of the podium in their disciplines.
The six golds achieved by them almost equals the number of gold medals achieved in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but with the 11 silver and seven bronze medals the Latin American record for women medalists in the Olympic Games is broken, with 24 in total. By country, Brazil leads the women's medal table with nine medals. One of his athletes, the gymnast Rebeca Andrade, won two: the gold in jump and the silver in the complete competition (
). Meanwhile, in other countries such as Ecuador or the Dominican Republic, women promoted the medal tables of their countries with their achievements and have given visibility to their communities, as is the case of the Afro-Ecuadorian weight lifters Neisi Dajomes and Tamara Salazar, gold and silver in their categories, respectively, which were proudly worn by the turbans representative of their culture at the award ceremonies.
Much has happened since Jeannette Campbell became the first medalist in the history of Latin America. In 1936, under the Nazi regime, the Argentine swimmer took second place in the 100-meter freestyle swimming at the Berlin Olympics. It would take America 32 years to see a plurality of women with medals: it was precisely in Mexico, in the first Olympic Games held on the continent in 1968. Then it took another 20 years to surpass the figure of two medals: in Seoul, 1988 they achieved three and in Barcelona 1992, ten. Since then, the growth has been more or less constant. Until the Tokyo games, which closed last weekend, Latin American women achieved 25 medals, beating the previous record of 23 in Beijing 2008.
A central reason to explain this progression is in the ceiling that was maintained for female athletes at the Games: those in Tokyo are the first to present an almost identical percentage of female competitions (about 51% of the total; 47% in 2016) . This was the ceiling that was difficult to avoid for the Olympic women, who also failed to surpass the average of all countries in London and Rio de Janeiro.
Added to this is the historical underrepresentation of women in Latin American Olympic delegations: the percentage of female competitors out of the total has remained not only below the theoretical maximum set by the disciplines to which they could choose, but also at a certain distance of the female quota in the rest of the delegations, always somewhat above the Latin American countries, and with a striking stagnation in the editions immediately prior to Tokyo.
The inevitable consequence of both factors is that, in the region, women have been competing below their potential and this is not something that can be attributed to a lack of desire. If it is difficult for male athletes in the region to find the resources to prepare adequately, the obstacles are usually greater in female sports. 2016 was particularly difficult for them: only a third of the Latin American medals were for women. But in 2021 the level has recovered strongly.
Those who have never left the Olympic podiums are the Argentine Lionesses, although the gold continues to resist. In Tokyo they lost to the Dutch field hockey team, but with the silver they won they became the most successful team in the history of their country at the Olympic Games and promoted to that discipline to which Latin American women have given the greatest percentage of medals (83%), followed by archery (75%) and wrestling (67%). In this edition, the Mexican Alejandra Valencia added a bronze in the first sport in the mixed category with her partner Luis Álvarez. In general terms, athletics, judo, taekwondo and weightlifting are the disciplines in which women in the region add the most medals.
Among the countries with the highest number of medals, Colombia is the only one that comes close to parity (47% of the podiums in its history have been achieved by women). The first to win a medal for Colombia was the sprinter Ximena Restrepo in Barcelona 1992. The current vice president of the International Athletics Federation (a position in which she is also a pioneer) won her bronze on August 5, coincidentally the same day that also Colombian Anthony Zambrano would win silver in the men's 400 meters. But, in addition to Zambrano, the heiresses of Restrepo in Tokyo have added two silver medals, in BMX (Mariana Pajón) and in a 20-kilometer march (Sandra Arenas). Both veterans are the penultimate flash of a generation of athletes who have won 14 of the 30 medals held by the Andean country.
Where the feminine dominance cannot be denied is at the top of the achievements of the Costa Rican Olympic delegation: the four medals that the country has obtained in its history have been obtained by two swimmers, sisters Claudia and Sylvia Poll. In other countries, such as Puerto Rico, although the percentage of women's medals is lower (20%), the only two gold medals have been won by women in recent years: tennis player Mónica Puig took that metal by winning the individual final in Rio de Janeiro 2016, while in Tokyo sprinter Jasmine Camacho Quinn reached the top of the podium in the 100-meter hurdles, where she proudly wore the maga flower, the island's emblem. The other medals achieved by the delegation are for men, but none of them have been awarded the highest honor.
Cuba is the country whose women head the historical medal table, with 57 out of a total of 235, although the vast majority are in male categories. Brazil follows, with 37 metals obtained by them. In Tokyo, the Brazilian delegation has made it clear that their quarry is strong. It was mainly demonstrated by Rayssa Leal, the 'skate fairy', who by getting a silver at just 13 years old became the youngest medalist in her country and a promise of what the future can be for Latin American teams.
Methodology and sources
The data comes from a database made by the authors, compiling all individual and group participations in modern Olympic Games, from Athens 1896 to Tokyo 2020. The medals are counted as female or male depending on the competition category;
when the category is mixed, it is counted twice.
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