“I’m merry, I’m happy, I’m joyous.” This is what Yarimar Mercado, a member of Puerto Rico’s Olympics team, told Caribbean Business. “We’re having a blast.” Mercado, along with teammates in events from cycling to women’s volleyball, was excited to raise the flag of Puerto Rico and to sing the song “La Borinqueña” in the opening ceremonies.
Sports sovereignty may be the only kind of sovereignty Puerto Rico has, as the Supreme Court has recently made clear even to the die-hard “commonwealthers,” and that may be one reason that the Olympics team is so important to Puerto Rico. The Island is one of several non-nation “entities” that the Olympics allows to field a team, including Bermuda, Hong Kong, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Rhodesia (which later became the nation of Zimbabwe) and Palestine have both fielded teams. This year, there is even a Refugee Olympics Team made up of ten individuals from five different countries.
Puerto Rico has competed in the Summer Olympics games since 1948, where boxer Juan Venegas received a bronze medal. There have been Puerto Rican teams at the Winter Olympics as well, including a six member ski team at the 1988 games. The Island’s athletes have taken home eight medals during that time: six bronze and two silver. Athletes from Puerto Rico can also choose to compete on U.S. Olympic teams.
Here are some of the Olympic athletes born in Puerto Rico:
- Boxer Aníbal Santiago Acevedo
- Basketball player Carlos Arroyo
- Boxer Daniel Santos
- Sailor Enrique Figueroa Suárez
- Tennis player Gigi Fernandez
- Swimmer Maritza Correia
- Skier Jonny Moseley
- Baseball player Juan Padilla
While Puerto Rico is currently facing financial hardship, the Olympic team reputedly has not been facing hardships. The cost of the Olympics to Puerto Rico is about $7,000,000. The Island relies on private donations more than most Olympics teams, but the team is a priority. Two medalists from the 2012 London Olympics, Javier Culson and Jaime Espinal, are trying again in Rio and could bring Puerto Rico the Island’s first gold medal.