Wednesday, August 8, 2012

London Calling: EEUU! EEUU! EEUU!

Over the past week and a half our posts on the London Games have focused primarily on athletes from Latin America and the Caribbean. Today, however, we will look at three Mexican-American competitors who have performed admirably for the U.S. (This is why the title to this post uses the popular "USA! USA! USA!" chant with the Spanish language abbreviation).

There is a cliché that says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Such was the case on Tuesday night for Leo Manzano in the men’s 1500 meters final. As he entered the last turn he was in a distant sixth and it certainly appeared that he wouldn’t reach the podium. But in the final ninety meters the University of Texas graduate surged ahead of four other runners and finished in second place.

Manzano’s silver-medal winning finishing kick at the Olympic Stadium was reminiscent of the following come-from-behind victory at a track meet roughly one year ago in London:

Manzano thus became the first U.S. runner in forty-four years to obtain a medal in the men’s 1500 meters.

He reportedly celebrated after the race by carrying both the flags of Mexico and the U.S.

Boxer Marlen Esparza lost in her semifinal match-up against Chinese pugilist Cancan Ren though she still ended with a bronze medal. Both boxers fought defensively though it appeared that the six-time national champion from Houston landed more punches in the first two rounds. But the judges viewed the fight different and gave Ren a 7-4 advantage. Esparza was more aggressive in the final two rounds against the three-time world champion but in the end she ended up losing by a score of 10-8.

After the bout U.S. head boxing coach Abdullah Basheer criticized the judges scoring while Telemundo commentator Rene Giraldo claimed that the fight was “gifted” to Ren.

Meanwhile a frustrated reportedly “broke down in tears several times after the fight” and told reporters that she “can't be angry about getting any medal at all but (bronze) wasn't my goal.”

Women’s water polo player Brenda Villa has obtained the three Olympics medals but she has never obtained the gold medal. She will be looking to change that tomorrow when the U.S. faces Spain in what will likely be her last time participating in the Olympics.

The thirty-four-year-old veteran who has been with the team since 1996 played a key role in the quarterfinals when she scored twice in a 9-6 win over Italy. She missed a penalty throw in regular time of the semifinal against Australia but she and Maggie Steffens combined for a defensive stop in the final minute of overtime that helped preserve an 11-9 victory.

In a recent Orange County Register article, U.S. coach Adam Krikorian referred to Villa as “the Magic Johnson of water polo.” Such a moniker may refer to her strength in the pool though she also strives out of the water to help improve her community:

With the same tenacity she has shown in her sport, Villa has worked to effect change for children in working-class, Hispanic neighborhoods in both southern and northern California.

"I feel I can make an impact," she said.

She is driven in large part by the faces of the children she sees in swimming pools and whose fingerprints cover her medal collection, faces that reflect her own. Recently Villa, a Stanford graduate, met with a group of eight girls at Ocean View High in Huntington Beach. They were daughters of Hispanic immigrant parents and they were the first members of their families to apply to colleges.

"And it was so cool," Villa said. "There was a connection. I looked in their faces and I was like 'That's me.'"

On Thursday afternoon we’ll look at a South American team that much like Villa and her cohorts will be looking to break their gold medal drought.

We’ll also highlight Latin American athletes who won medals today as well as last weekend.

Video Source– YouTube via Universal Sports

Online Sources – Huffington Post, NPR, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register

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