Updated 7 months, 2 weeks ago

16 Latinos to watch for in rio 2016

The London 2012 Olympics captivated the hearts and minds of billions worldwide. Yet, this year the Rio 2016 Olympics promises to deliver even more drama than the UK’s previous Olympic bid or recent Brexit results.

Amid health concerns over the Olympics being held in the heart of the Zika epidemic, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said it’s safe for anyone to attend the games, unless you are a pregnant woman. And yet despite this blessing, big name athletes, tourists and reporters are opting to stay home.

In addition to Zika, there’s also political calamity, crime and lack of police security, to name a few other concerns. Nonetheless, the games will continue and why shouldn’t they? Afterall few activities can heal and bring people together the way sports can. When societies are faced with crisis, they often turn to sports to carry them through their hardships because sports have the magical ability to attract, mobilize and inspire beyond boundaries, cultures and religions.

For instance, MLB teams have risen to such occasions in recent years. After September 11, 2001 the New York Yankees played a significant role in helping the city and the country cope as they went on to play in the World Series. Similarly, in 2013 the Boston Red Sox stayed strong after the Boston Marathon Bombings and helped the city heal by winning the World Series.

Furthermore, Japan won the Women’s World Cup after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. And most recently Andy Murray won the Wimbledon 2016 title after the Brexit vote divided the United Kingdom into two factions.

Therefore, during the 16 days of the Games, athletes will once again have the opportunity, if not for one second, one minute or one hour to help their country overcome their current economic and political struggles as they too attempt to find a way to overcome challenges in their pursuit of the gold.

Consequently, given that this is the first time a South American country will host the Olympics here are 16 Latino athletes and teams to keep an eye on in Rio.

1) Aida Roman (Mexico, Archery)

Aida Roman is the current silver medalist in Archery from the London 2012 games. After bringing Mexico their first ever silver medal in archery, she’s spent the last four years with her third Olympics and the gold medal on her mind.

2) Alison Cerutti/Bruno Schmidt (Brazil, Men’s Beach Volleyball)

Alison and Bruno are the number 1 team in the Men’s Beach Volleyball Olympic qualifying rankings. Add to that the popularity of Beach Volleyball in Brazil and that the games are being played in their home country and you can feel the pressure build on this duo. But this pair is used to the pressure, consistently playing up to a high level in both the FIVB tour and their domestic tour. Look for Alison and Bruno to inspire a nation and take home a medal in Rio.

3) Brenda Martinez (USA, Track and Field)

Brenda’s story of how she qualified for Rio might very well be a movie someday. In a tale of perseverance, sheer will and grit, Martinez’ performance is the epitome of how to overcome adversity. Lookout for this University of California Riverside alum and IAAF World Championships medalist to keep on performing and overcoming obstacles in her sports highest stage.

4) Carlos Balderas (USA, Boxing)

The 19 year old Mexican-American Balderas will make his Olympic debut. The 2014 Junior and Youth Open national champion will have the same opportunity as Oscar De la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. before him, to compete for the US. Despite what looks like fierce competition in the men’s lightweight division, Balderas looks poised for the challenge.

5) Carlos Mario Oquendo (Colombia, BMX)

Oquendo burst onto the BMX scene in 2012 by capturing the bronze at the London 2012 Olympics. After getting a taste of glory, he’s been preparing hard over the last four years in search of taking that next step and capturing the gold in Rio. Carlos has been a steady performer on the BMX circuit and is one of the favorites to medal this year.

6) Caterine Ibarguen (Triple Jump, Colombia)

The reigning 2012 silver medalist and 2015 world champion in the Long Jump category, Ibarguen is the favorite to take home the gold in Rio. Ibarguen has been a dominant force in the triple jump on the world stage over the last 4 years, putting her in serious contention as one of the greatest Colombian athletes of all time. She’ll be looking to cement her name in the history books with another great performance on the world’s biggest stage.

7) Erick Barrondo (Guatemala, Race Walk)

Barrondo became Guatemala’s first Olympic Medalist by winning the silver medal in the Men’s 20 km race walk at the 2012 games in London. He’s looking to repeat his great performance in Rio and become the country’s first-ever gold medalist. He recently finished second at the Pan American Games in the 50 km race. Erick’s been one of the top race walkers in the world the last four years and it would be no surprise for him to have a top three finish in Rio.

8) Franklin Gomez (Puerto Rico, Freestyle Wrestling)

Gomez was born in the Dominican but moved to Puerto Rico at a young age where he has become one of world’s top freestyle wrestlers. Gomez won the gold medal at the 2011 Pan American games, where he became the first-ever Puerto Rican wrestler to win a gold medal in wrestling. This will be Gomez’ second Olympics as he came close to winning a medal in London, just losing out in the bronze medal match. Gomez looks to build off of that performance in London and bring home a medal in Rio.

9) Las Leonas (Argentina, Women’s Field Hockey)

Led by captain Carla Rebecchi the women’s Argentina field hockey team, commonly referred to as “Las Leonas,” comes into the Rio 2016 Olympics looking to take the gold. Las Leonas have been a mainstay at the Summer Games, winning two bronze and two silvers in the past four Olympics. Watch out for these ferocious leonas.

10) Laurie Hernandez (USA, Gymnastics)

The 16 year old phenom from New Jersey also known as “The Human Emoji” is not only one of the youngest Team U.S.A. athletes to compete in Rio, but she’s also the first Latina gymnast on its gymnastics team since 2004. The youngest member of the “fierce five” is also the 2015 U.S. junior champion. Watch out for this Hollywood star in the making.

11) Lazaro Alvarez (Cuba, Boxing)

The 2012 Bronze Medalist Alvarez has his eyes set on the gold. The three-time champion in two weight classes has a tough time ahead of him considering that for the first time in Olympic history Professional boxers will join Amateurs in the ring. Regardless lookout for this star to shine.

12) Mariana Pajon (Colombia, BMX)

Colombia had great success at the London 2012 Olympics winning a medal in both the male and female categories respectively. The medalist are back this year and the reigning gold medalist Mariana Pajon is looking to repeat. She was the country’s flag bearer at the London 2012 Olympics and followed that up with taking home a gold medal. Along with winning the gold in London, she’s also a BMX world champion. This year she’s the favorite to win gold in Rio and is looking to become the first Colombian to bring home back to back gold medals.

13) Sarah Robles (USA, Weightlifting)

Robles, whose paternal great grandparents hail from Mexico, will be heading to her second Olympics after a 7th place finish in the +75kg category. Before the London Olympics, Robles said to have lived on a $400 USD budget from U.S.A. weightlifting and sometimes didn’t even have enough gas to drive for training. Although she’s had to struggle in a sport that’s not highly visible as others, Robles has been considered one of the strongest women in the world and is looking to take that next step in Rio.

14) Selección de Fútbol de Honduras (Honduras, Soccer)

Honduras qualified, along with Mexico, to represent CONCACAF at the 2016 Olympics. This will be Honduras’ 4th Olympics, with their top finish being in London 2012 where they beat tournament favorite Spain and reached the quarterfinal. They’re looking to build off that quarterfinal finish and medal this year with a talented young squad.

15) Tony Azevedo (USA, Water Polo)

For many, the name Azevedo is synonymous with Water Polo and that’s no mistake. The U.S. Men’s Water Polo Captain will compete in a U.S. record fifth games and that’s only the tip of iceberg. In what looks to be one of the most intriguing stories of these Olympics, Azevedo returns to his birthplace, Rio, in the pursuit of his first gold medal. Lookout for Tony and team USA.

16) Yarisley Silva (Cuba, Pole Vaulting)

Silva became the first-ever Latina to capture a medal in pole vaulting, when she won the silver in London 2012. Rio will be her third Olympics, where she’s one of the favorites to win the gold. She’s coming into Rio on quite a roll, finishing first in the 2014 World Indoor Championships, the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games, the 2015 Pan Am Games, and the 2015 World Championships. Look for Silva to continue her streak in Rio and add to her continued success.

No matter which country you root for, you can also root for these incredible athletes because even though they are all participating and competing for the gold, they are all promoting peace and understanding by bringing fans together across all nations.

Huffington Post |Josue Lopez Calderon