(July 31) – Being the best on the planet constitutes a distinction and an honour, achieved in the vast majority of cases with a significant dose of sacrifice and dedication.
In the Pan American Games, two disciplines in which a considerable number of medals are granted: athletics and swimming. Nonetheless, the number of world records established since the beginning of the Games in Argentina-51 can be counted on two hands. We will then review them before the eighteenth edition in Lima is inaugurated.
The first was set by a Brazilian, born in Rio de Janeiro into a poor family, who began to practice triple jumping when he was 20 years old, under the direction of German coach Dietrich Gerner. Adhemar Ferreira Da Silva made history in athletics when on March 16, 1955, in Mexico, he jumped for 16.56 meters, beating the record set by the Soviet Union’s Leonid Sherbakov by 33 centimeters.
Two days later, on the same field in Mexico City’s Olympic stadium, the U.S. sprinter Louis Jones crossed the finish line and collapsed on the track, after narrowly surpassing his compatriot James Lea with a record of 45 seconds and four hundredths, erasing from the books the record previously held by Jamaican George Rhoden.
August 5, 1971: A glorious date for Cuban athletics in particular and for sport in general. On the afternoon of Thursday, August 5, 1971, at the Pascual Guerrero stadium, in the city of Cali, Colombia, Pedro Pérez Dueñas, a 19-year-old boy, born in Pinar del Río, gained momentum, executed the jump, and soared for 17.40 meters, a new world record in the triple jump, one centimeter more than the record at that time held by the USSR’s Victor Saneyev. He also defeated the Olympic runner-up in Mexico-68, Brazilian Nelson Prudencio.
Pérez Dueñas – who died in Havana on July 18 last year, and had studied Sports Medicine after his competitive career – became the first world record holder in Cuba after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
Coincidentally, the fourth world record during the Pan-American Games in athletics was set by another Brazilian, also in the difficult triple jump: Joao Carlos de Oliveira, who jumped for 17.89 meters at the University Stadium in Mexico City.
Weightlifters also figure among athletes who set world records at the Pan Americans, including Cuba’s Santiago Idalberto Aranda, who in Winnipeg-99, in the new 77 kilograms division, lifted 205.5 kg.
It is no surprise that swimming is the discipline in which the highest number of world records has been established at our continental competition, in recent years. A single example would suffice: in the Fifth Games, held in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, no less than 14 world records were set, with the star being U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz and his compatriot Claudia Kolb, with two and three, respectively. Also, in Puerto Rico-79, another U.S. swimmer, Cynthia Woodhead, finished the 200 meters freestyle in 1:58.43, the best ever at the time.
But it is not only the world records that speak for the prestige and quality of an event, be it Olympic or Pan American. In Mar del Plata-95, Javier Sotomayor jumped for 2.40 meters, just five centimeters short of his record achieved in Salamanca two years earlier.
Our Yipsi Moreno set an impressive record in the Pan-Americans of Santo Domingo-2003 by throwing the hammer for 74.25 meters, one of the greatest performances of all time.
Jamaican Donald Quarrie, in the 200-meter final at Cali-71, set a formidable 19.83-second time, only three hundredths more than the world record of his compatriot Tommie Smith, in the Mexico-68 Olympics.
There is no doubt that the Pan-Americans – timidly initiated in Argentina almost seven decades ago – have become an international event of great relevance, featuring important figures in world sports.
Granma, July 31, 2019