Tag Archives: olympics

Mexico’s Olympians: Bringing Home the Bronze

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

The 2020 summer Olympic Games was one of the strangest in modern history. They were played in 2021 in Tokyo after a year’s delay due to the raging coronavirus, with spectators banned from the events and Japanese residents outside the venues loudly protesting the games. The demanding circumstances took their toll on many athletes; the Olympians from Mexico were not exceptions.

Mexico’s athletes seem to thrive on crowds cheering them on. The best previous Mexican Olympic performances occurred in their own Mexico City in 1964, with stands packed with their screaming fans; they reaped 9 medals, three gold, three silver and three bronze. The next best was in 1984 in Los Angeles, a city rich with people with Mexican roots cheering in Spanish; they won six medals, two gold, three silver and one bronze.

Tokyo 2020 was, for the Mexican Olympians, at best “average.” Lacking fans rooting them on, they brought home four medals, all bronze. Only one medal was in a sport that ranks high in Mexico, football, or as those north of the border say, soccer.

Soccer is more a part of life than just a game in Mexico. It’s common to see boys, still toddlers unsteady on their feet, kicking balls all over the country. Fans are fiercely loyal to their teams and the clubs supporting them.

Although Mexico has competed in soccer in just five Olympic Games, they have brought home two medals, a gold from London and the bronze this year. Perhaps the lack of spectators worked in favor of the Mexico team in Tokyo, since they faced off against the Japanese team for the bronze. If the stadium had been packed with fans from Japan, the results might have been different from the win by Mexico with a 3-0 score.

More surprising than Team Mexico’s medal in soccer was the bronze taken by Alejandra Valencia and Luis Alvarez in the mixed doubles archery competition. To bring home the bronze, the team bested first Germany, 6-2, then shut out Britain (6-0). They lost to South Korea (which has won the gold 14 times). But in their final round, competing with the team from Turkey, they scored 6–2.

Although archery is hardly a major sport in Mexico, individual archers on Team Mexico had previously won a silver medal and two bronze at the summer games. However, this was the first competition in archery involving a team of two, a man and a woman, in which Mexico medaled. Of course, archery etiquette demands silence during key competition moments. So the absence of Alejandra’s hometown rooters from Hermosillo and Luis’s from Mexicali may have aided their focus – although the fans were no doubt missed after the win.

Aremi Fuentes Zavala’s bronze medal in the women’s 76 kilogram (167 lb) weightlifting competition may help blow away the film industry stereotype of Mexican women as beautiful adornments clinging to the men in their lives. From Chiapas, a state where whole villages of women are the wage-earners and men are responsible for home and hearth, Fuentes, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall, also took the silver in women’s 76 kilo weightlifting in the 2019 Pan American games in Lima. In interviews she exudes pride in being a strong woman.

Two other women Olympians from Mexico brought home the fourth bronze medal. Their event was synchronized diving from the 10 meter platform. For Alejandra Orozco, this was her second Olympic medal in the summer sport; her teammate, Gabriela Agúndez García was competing in her first Olympics. Both women are Armed Forces athletes stationed in Guadalajara. Both began as gymnasts at very early ages, which is evident in their performance both on the platform and while airborne.

Although at age 24, Orozco is two years older than Agúndez Garcia and at 1.58 meters high (5 feet 2 inches) is 0.02 meters (1 inch) taller, during their dives they appear to be almost identical twins. From the second their toes left the platform to the second their toes, gracefully pointed to the ceiling, disappeared into the water with minimal splash, they were so coordinated it was like seeing one diver and her mirror image piking and summersaulting.

Although all these splendid Olympians missed having in-person cheering spectators, people around the world and especially in Mexico were watching them via new technologies and applauding. And when the Summer Olympics will once again be held in Los Angeles in 2028, we can hope the cheering in Spanish will once again spur the Olympians from Mexico to more medals – perhaps even bringing home the gold.

A “Trashy” Olympic Scandal

By Kary Vannice

A pile of garbage bags sparked a very interesting (and very embarrassing) controversy for team Mexico at this year’s Olympics – a controversy that raised the question, are the Olympics really about patriotism and national pride or just another chance for athletes to compete and win worldwide fame?

How did something as mundane as a sack of trash lead to such a provocative question and spark a global debate? Well, to be fair, it was the contents of the bags that made headlines.

On July 29th, a female Mexican Olympic boxer posted a photo on her social media showing several sacks of trash thrown out by the Mexican softball team. The bags contained official Mexican Olympic team uniforms and training gear.

Along with the photo, she posted this quote:

“This uniform represents years of effort, sacrifice, and tears. All Mexican athletes yearn to wear it with dignity, and today the Mexican softball team sadly left it all in the garbage of the Olympic villages.”

This act of disrespect was made much worse because 14 of the 15 women competing for the Mexican Olympic softball team were born in the United States.

In fact, Mexico qualified for its first-ever Olympic softball appearance by recruiting American collegiate athletes of Mexican descent, a practice that is totally legal according to the International Olympic Committee, which requires that athletes be citizens or nationals of the country they compete for. Athletes with dual or multiple citizenship can choose which country they want to represent and declare a transfer of allegiance specifically and only for the Olympic games. When the games are over, they can go right back to competing professionally or collegiately in their home country.

Because each of the 200 countries that participated in the Tokyo Games has its own laws governing citizenship and residency, countries wanting a better chance at an Olympic medal can easily bend the rules by actively seeking athletes from other countries who have ancestral ties to the country.

The United States, which has more professional athletes than any other country, is a prime hunting ground for Olympic athletic talent. Only the best of the best qualify to compete on the US Olympic team, but many who don’t make the cut easily qualify to join the team of another country, where the talent pool isn’t so deep or over-crowded.

And that’s exactly what happened in the case of Mexico’s 2020 Olympic softball team, with all but one being born in the United States. This led one news outlet to publish an article titled “Mexico’s Olympic softball team is made in the USA.”

But what are the consequences of stacking a potentially winning team with players who are in it solely to compete and not to “bring home the gold”? How would the Mexican people have felt had the softball team won gold? Would they feel a sense of national pride knowing that 14 out of the 15 metals would go home to the United States and never touch down on Mexican soil? It’s very unlikely.

It also seems quite clear that the women themselves felt more allegiance to the Olympics than to Mexico, eventually admitting that they threw out the team jerseys given them by the Mexican Olympic Committee to make room for bed comforters and quilts from their rooms at Olympic Village. Essentially, they favored souvenirs with six colored rings on them over the uniforms that sported the Mexican flag.

In an official statement (after becoming an international sports scandal), a representative of the softball team said that it was simply a matter of “too much cargo.” Yet ESPN Mexico reported that sets of softball equipment, clothing from the opening ceremony, sneakers, and suitcases were also found in the garbage, begging the question, what’s it worth to represent a country that’s not your own in the greatest sports games on the planet? As it turns out, for some, not even the price of overweight luggage.

But to be fair, Mexico isn’t the only country taking advantage of the transfer of allegiance rule. In the last Olympics, nearly 200 athletes competed for countries they were not born in. Two athletes have even won medals for two different countries in the history of the games!

Each individual must, for themselves, weigh the balance of national pride vs. the chance to compete at all costs. But it’s a powerful statement that in 2016 the Olympic Committee formed the Refugee Olympic Team so that athletes who have been forcibly displaced from their home countries could still compete.

In this year’s Olympics, 29 athletes from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela competed for the Refugee Olympic Team in 12 events. They entered the Tokyo Olympic stadium under a united flag that represents refugees around the world, all 29 of them proving it’s not the flag you stand under, but solidarity that matters most.

Mexico City Olympics – 1968

By Randy Jackson

There are two iconic, yet paradoxical, images from the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. One is of the torch runner, Enriqueta Basilio Sotelo, running up the stairs of the Olympic Stadium, amid the crowd and photographers, to light the Olympic Cauldron. Enriqueta was the first woman in Olympic history to light the Olympic Cauldron. It is an image of modernity, of hope, and of progress for Mexico and for the world. In the other iconic photo, two African American athletes stand on the medal podium, each holding up a black-gloved fist, shoeless but wearing black socks, with their heads bowed. This image of defiance and protest is emblematic of events in that tumultuous year, 1968.

Mexico won the bid to host the 1968 Olympics over three competing countries: the United States, France, and Argentina. For decades after the Second World War, Mexico had enjoyed what historians now call “The Mexican Miracle.” This was a golden age of capitalism in Mexico. It was a period of strong economic growth, with increases in industrial production, worker wages, and growth in the middle class. It was also a sustained period of internal stability under the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). In the 1960s the PRI saw the next step in the economic progress for Mexico was to increase its international profile for investment and tourism. Hosting the Olympics in 1968 was seen as an important way to do this.

The PRI and its president, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964 – 70), had grown confident in its own power and the social stability it afforded Mexico. The anti-establishment protests rife in the world leading up to 1968 had not been seen in Mexico. However, that social stability was the result of iron-fisted control over almost all aspects of society, including the state-owned media. It wasn’t that discontent didn’t exist, rather it was repressed.

By 1968, particularly in Mexico City, there was a large and growing middle class who were unhappy with the substantial expenditures on Olympic facilities. This discontent piled onto the resentment directed towards President Ordaz after his heavy handed repression of a doctor’s strike. As the Olympics approached, some student protests began over school-specific issues. These protests were miniscule compared to the student uprisings in France, Germany, and the United States at the time. But President Ordaz repressed the protests with a heavy hand, not wanting any unrest that might disrupt the Olympics.

This resulted in larger and more frequent student protests. As the opening date of the Olympics approached, a student protest was organized to take place on October 2, ten days before the Olympics were to begin. The location was the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, in the Mexico City neighbourhood of Tlatelolco (a former Aztec city state). By 5:00 PM that day a crowd of about 10,000 people had gathered in the square to listen to speeches by student leaders. Around 6:00 PM military helicopters dropped flares over the crowd. There followed some initial shots fired from uncertain origins. This gunfire resulted in some army and police officers firing into the crowd.

Eye witnesses later reported piles of bodies in the square, of hundreds injured, and thousands of people detained. However, the official account, carried by the state-controlled media, said only four people were killed. This event came to be known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. There were no further student protests after that, and the Games of the XIX Olympiad opened as planned on October 12, 1968.

A full account of the October 2nd massacre at Tlatelolco only began to emerge after 2000, when the PRI party was defeated by the PAN (National Action Party), under the presidency of Vicente Fox. President Fox ordered the declassification of military documents related to the October 1968 events. What emerged was the information that personnel from a special military branch had opened fire from nearby apartments on both the police and the crowd. They did this to provoke a response from the army. The crowd panicked and fled while the army responded with force. Killings, beatings, and arrests continued through the night. Power and phone lines were cut to the neighbourhood; 3,000 people were detained and all the student leaders were arrested.

But in October 1968, all that was unknown to most of the world and to the vast majority of people in Mexico. Ten days after the Tlatelolco massacre, Enriqueta Basilio, dressed in white athletic gear, ran up the steep white steps of the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City. Smoke trailed the torch in her raised right arm as Enriqueta sprinted the stairs on that calm clear autumn day. Enriqueta, a national champion in athletics, lit the Olympic cauldron, hundreds of white doves were released, the stadium crowd cheered, and the games began.

The 1968 Olympics had more Mexican athletes entered (275) and Mexico won more total medals (9) than in any previous or subsequent Olympics Games. Mexico won three gold medals (two in men’s boxing, one in men’s swimming): three silver medals (men’s speed walking, women’s fencing, and women’s diving); and three bronze medals (two in men’s boxing, one in women’s freestyle swimming).

At these Olympics, a number of world records were set. American Richard Fosbury introduced a new method for the high jump, a backwards flop that won him the world record and a gold medal. His technique, now known as the Fosbury Flop, has been used by all high jumpers since. In the men’s 100-meter dash, American James Hines was the first person in history to break the 10-second barrier. Another world record was set in the men’s 200-meter race by American Tommie Smith, at 19.83 seconds. But it wasn’t that world record, or his gold medal, that made Tommie Smith instantly famous, it was what happened at the awards ceremony on the morning of October 16, 1968.

In a dramatic race, Tommie Smith held a commanding lead early on. That lead narrowed as they approached the finish. John Carlos, Smith’s American team-mate, had moved clearly into second place. Then suddenly, from the athletes further back, the Australian Peter Norman surged forward with phenomenal speed and passed John Carlos 4/100 of a second faster at the finish line. Tommie Smith had earned gold, Peter Norman silver, and John Carlos Bronze.

These three athletes approached the podium displaying numerous symbols. Smith and Carlos were shoeless to bring attention to black poverty in the US; Carlos had his shirt undone as a symbol supporting the working class; and all three athletes wore badges for the Olympic Project for Human Rights (a US organization to protest racial segregation in sports). But none of these symbols had the visual impact of Smith and Carlos who, during the US national anthem, bowed their heads and raised a black gloved fist in the air.

To their credit, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) refused the demand by the American IOC president to strip Smith and Carlos of their medals. But they were kicked off the American Olympic team and expelled from the Olympic Village. They returned home to condemnation by the American press and even death threats. Peter Norman returned to derision and ridicule in Australia for supporting his fellow champions. He was denied all future Olympic entry, despite qualifying.

This iconic image became bigger than any of the athletes on the podium could ever have imagined. Beyond their own life-long consequences from this action, the image came to represent, for the whole world, that tumultuous year – 1968.

As for the torch bearer Enriqueta Basilio, she later became a deputy in the Mexican Congress and a permanent member of the Mexican Olympic Committee. In October 2020, a year after her death, Enriqueta became the first Olympic athlete ever to have a celestial body named after her – Queta is a moon of the Trojan asteroid. Perhaps, of these two Iconic images, it will be Enriqueta’s that stands in the long run to represent the image of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.