In this monthly column, Freek Huigen will keep you up to date on the Colombian preparations for the world’s biggest sporting festival
The biggest sporting event of the year, the Olympic Games, will kick off in Rio de Janeiro in August. Colombia is hoping to achieve yet another record breaking performance, even though various athletes have yet to make the grade in the pre-Olympic qualifiers.
With four months to go before the opening ceremony on August 5, there are at least 116 Colombian athletes already set to go to Rio, improving on their London 2012 representation of 104 athletes. Eighteen of those are from the men’s football team.
Los Cafeteros will feature for the first time since the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Their historic qualification came after a play-off against the United States, when the Colombian under-23 side beat their American peers 3-2 on aggregate. The team, coached by Carlos ‘Piscis’ Restrepo, struggled in Barranquilla, but two goals from up-and-coming star Roger Martínez, currently playing at Racing Club in Argentina, had Colombia uncorking the champagne.
The Olympic men’s football tournament will consist of 16 teams of players born on or after January 1, 1993. Each 18-man squad can include three dispensation players who fail to meet the age requirement. Radamel Falcao has already expressed his interest in one of the three spots. “I have thought about it. I couldn’t go to the World Cup. To go to the Olympics would be a great opportunity for my career. Of course, I would like it”, he told ESPN.
Football isn’t the only sport contributing to the total athlete tally. Lady Ruano claimed her position in the tournament after making it to the final of the Latin American table tennis championships. She survived two match points in the quarterfinals against Chilean Paulina Vega before taking another victory that sealed a spot in her maiden Olympic Games.
The Olympic qualification tournament in boxing saw the Colombian delegation gain three tickets. The 28-year-old Jorge Luis Vivas made it into the middleweight -75kg tournament and Yubergen Martínez took the crown in the light flyweight -49kg category. Ingrid Valencia qualified in the -51kg flyweight category, and will be the first Colombian woman to compete in the Olympic boxing tournament.
Fencer, Saskia van Erven García will compete in her second consecutive Olympic tournament. Daughter of a Dutch father and Colombian mother, she has been competing in international tournaments under the Colombian flag since 2011. In the foil discipline, the 28-year-old made it to the second round in London 2012 and will be looking to improve on that performance in Rio.
Next week is D-day for the gymnasts. This will be Jossimar Calvo’s final chance for qualification after a disappointing World Championships in October. The specialist on parallel bars and high bar is competing in the all-around competition. The Colombian delegation will be battling for one men’s spot and one women’s.
Current Olympic BMX champion Mariana Pajón is also on schedule for Rio de Janeiro, despite her crash out of the World Cup race in Manchester, UK. On May 31, a complicated ranking will decide on the BMX qualification. Ranked at world number one, Pajón is very close to qualification, and that’s before the upcoming World Championships on her home turf of Medellín. The men are also in a good position to secure two places.
By Freek Huigen