On the radar: Colombia’s newest sporting heroes

Driver, Nascar, Sports, Colombian people, Talent

Photo: Wikipedia

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Colombia is passionate about sports and ever-ready to celebrate the successes of sportsmen including James Rodriguez, Nairo Quintana and Caterine […]

Colombia is passionate about sports and ever-ready to celebrate the successes of sportsmen including James Rodriguez, Nairo Quintana and Caterine Ibargüen. But the sporting success of some of the country’s greatest athletes had slipped under the radar. Until now. Here are three of Colombia’s most successful and inspiring sporting heroes.

Sara López, archery

Sara López, from Risaralda, is one of the greatest archers the world has ever seen. Earlier this year she set a world points record in the sport and was the first athlete ever to achieve a perfect score of 150 points. Last month she became the second woman ever to win the Archery World Cup twice (in Mexico City, Mexico in 2015 and Lausanne, Switzerland in 2014) and the first to win it in two consecutive years. Speaking of both her successes and those of her fellow Colombian archers, Sara said: “Even though our archery results in Colombia are better than those of many other sports and we went from nothing to being the best in the world, we rarely receive the recognition we deserve. Very few people have understood the magnitude of what we have achieved.”

Yersi Puello, speed skating

Yersi Puello is Colombia’s greatest speed skater, having won 26 gold medals on the world stage and conquered competitions including the South American Games, Panamerican Games, Central American Games and the World Games. The 28-year-old, from Cartagena, was 12 when her father first gave her a pair of inline skates for Christmas. She set about skating on the streets of the city’s San Fernando district and soon began to take the sport more seriously, training for seven months in order to win her first medal in a local competition. She went on to win her first global gold medal in the World Cup in Venezuela in 2003 and has never looked back, training every day to achieve the leg power and exceptional skating technique that has lead her to so many victories. Yersi, who battled asthma as a child, said: “It is important to me to return each time to my country as a winner, defending our colors. It makes me very happy.”

Sofía Gómez, free diving

It’s no wonder Sofia Gomez is a free-diving record breaker. She has been swimming and practicing water sports since she was 10 years-old, beginning with synchronized swimming and fin-swimming. She learned some simple breathing techniques during a training session and decided to see how far she could swim underwater with just one breath. When she reached 100m, it was clear free-diving was the sport for her, a sport that’s also known as apnea, from the Greek for “without breathing”. Free divers dive without specialist equipment, surviving on one breath alone. Now 23, Sofia, from Pereira, has set six Colombian records, including three for free-diving and the record for dynamic free-diving with a team at the Panamerican Games in Mexico, 2014. She said: “Apnea has given me a passion for redefining my limits and knowing who I am, as well as understanding my body and allowing it to reach its full potential.”

Alejandro Fernández, rallycross

Alejandro Fernandez, from Bogota, was the first Colombian, and the first Latin American, driver to compete in the Global RallyCross championship in the United States. The 19-year-old started racing at just 16, when his family bought him a Go-Kart as a birthday present. Two months later Alejandro, who now lives in San Bernardino, California, was competing in the United States. He raced BMX as a child too, competing in the ABA BMX World Championships and Colombia’s Rueda del Oro but swapped bicycles for cars when he broke his hand. Alejandro joined the Global RallyCross Championship in 2014 and has since being voted Driver of the Year twice by fans for his category, Supercars Lites. He is such a regular on the podium, other drivers have nicknamed him “Colombian Power”.

Juan Esteban García, NASCAR

 Juan Esteban Garcia, from Bogota, is the first Latin American to win a prestigious NASCAR prize. The teenager received the Wendell Scott Award for a foreign driver who has made a significant contribution to the sport, on and off the track. Garcia began racing at the Kartodromo de Tocancipa, north of Bogota, when he was just a child and won three go-karting championships from the ages nine to 11. He eventually began commuting from Bogota to the US once a month to compete in NASCAR events at the Irwindale Speedway in California, and, in 2013, became the youngest driver to win a Division 1 feature there. He was just 16.

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