The first Olympic champion woman in Latin America

By LEMAY PADRON OLIVEROS*

Maria Caridad Colon Ruenes

Maria Caridad Colon Ruenes

Havana (PL) July is a special month for Maria Caridad Colon Ruenes, because in that month, specifically on the 25th of 1980, she entered the history of world sport by becoming the first Latin American woman to be crowned in any Olympic Games.

Many were surprised when at the top of the podium was placed this slender 22-year-old mulata girl, who drove half a world crazy with her physical charms, beyond her innate talent for throwing the javelin.

When Maria Caridad started taking her first steps in her native Baracoa, the first villa founded by Spanish colonists in the island, she quickly showed her sports abilities, especially at throwing, despite not having an ideal physique for this discipline.

When she was a child, table tennis took up some of her time, but she finally chose the javelin, and in 1974 she won her first silver medal in the National School Games.

Yet, some tried to stop her appealing to the famous somatotype preconceptions, and they advised her to return to table tennis or to choose chess, but the girl’s persistence was stronger, and gradually time proved she was right.

Her first big win comes at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Medellin, Colombia, in 1978, when she breaks the record of the area with an entry of 63 meters and 40 centimeters. Until then she had won a couple of times the best world junior mark.

A year later, during the Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she also shattered the continental supremacy with a throw of62.30meters, by which she won the gold medal.

So far everything seemed to be a perfect Olympic cycle, but a persistent back injury intended to stand in the way of her biggest dream.

Anyway, Maria Caridad followed the doctor instructions to the letter: “Throw all in the first attempt,” she was advised. And so it was, at the Lenin Stadium in Moscow the light chocolate colored girl got up speed and put all her love, all the passion and sacrifice of all her training years in a single shot. Waiting lasted several seconds, but in the end the judges decreed: 68.40 meters, new summer dimensions.

The record was so respectable that none of the finalists remaining, including the German Democratic Ruth Fuchs, head of Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976, multiple world record holder and with a personal best of 69.96 meters, and Soviet Tatiana Biryulina, current record holder, could recover from the dramatic effect.

Facing the last attempt of her opponents, the Guantanamo girl could not hide her joy: jumps, tears and smiles filled the main sports arena of those games, because for the first time an Spanish-American woman climbed to the top of the podium in such fights, coincidentally in the International Women’s Year.

During the press conference, she does not forget the date on which she got her coronation: the eve of July 26, a historic day for Cuba when the assault to the Moncada barracks marked the beginning of the armed struggle that would end with the triumph of the Revolution.

Then, she became a mother and returned with gold at the Pan American Games in Caracas, 1983 and silver in Indianapolis, 1987. Maria Caridad wanted to say goodbye to her fans at the Games in Havana, 1991 and she had results to be included in the team, but those responsible for selecting did not choose her, moment she considered as the toughest of her career.

But the example of Colon did not remain in her personal feats, but it served as an incentive for another great thrower, Osleidis Menendez, who repeated her score in Athens 2004 and added the touch of a world record.

Coincidentally, Osleidis also got her summer crown by her first throw.

That’s life!

After her retirement from active sports, Maria Caridad gave classes at the Higher Institute of Physical Culture Commander Manuel Fajardo in Havana, and she currently works as an official of the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER).
*Journalist of the Sports Editorial Department at Prensa Latina News Agency

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