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Puerto Rico In The Winter Olympics,
Not Such A Hot Idea

By Gabrielle Paese

February 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002
PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

If God had wanted Puerto Rico to compete in the Winter Olympics, he would have made it snow in San Juan.

I'm not talking about the few snowflakes San Juan mayor doña Felisa Rincón de Gautier used to have flown down to Puerto Rico back in the '50s. I'm talking about the kind of snow that blankets the ground and turns into a sheet of ice after an ensuing rain and temperature drop.

That's snow the likes of which the Caribbean thankfully never has to see and the No. 1 reason Puerto Rico is such a popular tourist destination among New Yorkers in January.

Unfortunately, someone locked the International Olympic Committee members in a room over in Lausanne, Switzerland headquarters and forced them to watch the movie "Cool Runnings," about the Jamaican bobsledders, too many times.

That's why they insist upon continuing to fund NOCs (National Olympic Committees) in what they call "non-traditional" sports. And so you have Jamaicans and Puerto Ricans hurtling themselves 60 mph down an icy boblsed run with their sleds careening out of control.

Nothing much has come of Puerto Rico's participation in the past six Winter Games since George Tucker made his debut in 1984 in Sarajevo, finishing dead last.

Puerto Rico got its first winter Games Olympic Solidarity grant at the behest of former island decathlete champion Liston Bochette, whose idea it was to use the island's track stars much in the same way Jamaica was already doing in the bobsled.

Now Jamaica had even better sprinters than Puerto Rico did, and even Jamaica wasn't doing well in the bobsled, which apparently is more technical than just pushing and steering.

Through the Olympic Games of 1998 in Nagano, Puerto Rico had fared no better than last, last and second-to-last place in Olympic bobsled.

In fact, it was Puerto Rico's bobsled, careening upside down and out of control down the run at the 1992 Games in Albertville, that served as highlight reel for ABC Sports' roundup show ("Bringing you the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat").

If all those bottom-of-the list finishes weren't enough of a clue that Puerto Rico has no place in the Winter Games, the island added another footnote to its ill-fated Olympic history this week after its two-man bobsled team was pulled out of the event before it even started. The reason? Sled pilot Mike González did not meet Puerto Rico's eligibility requirement.

Eligibility has long been an issue for Puerto Rico in international sports. By virtue of being U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are all eligible to represent the United States in international sports. However, the reverse is not true.

The Puerto Rico Olympic Committee (PROC) stipulates that an athlete is only eligible to represent Puerto Rico internationally if he is a Puerto Rican citizen or has Puerto Rican ties.

Those ties are stipulated in the PROC bylaws as follows. The athlete has to have been born in Puerto Rico; have at least one Puerto Rican parent; be married to a Puerto Rican or have lived in Puerto Rico for at least three years.

González could prove none of the above to PROC president Héctor Cardona last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, and on Saturday, Cardona disqualified the bobsled team to avoid a scandal back home.

He might just as well have let the sledders compete because he's got a scandal anyway. PROC member federations are already calling for Cardona's head -- and that was before it was revealed that González has been representing Puerto Rico since 1997. In fact, González was on Puerto Rico's team in Nagano in 1998, but he never actually competed.

In 1998, Puerto Rico's two-man bobsled never made it down the run because the sled itself was over the weight limit.

PROC chief Cardona said Wednesday that he felt the island should continue to compete in the Winter Olympics despite its six previous disasters.

"That Olympic Solidarity money is earmarked specifically for our participation in the Winter Olympics," said Cardona. "We can't trade it in for anything else. That's all we can use it for, so what's wrong with using it?"

Bochette, who was recently elected secretary general of the IOC's Athletes Commission agrees.

"Every time we send someone to an elite level competition, they become a messenger for the sport," said Bochette. "Then they go back to Utuado, or wherever they came from, and inspire someone else to become an athlete."

Sounds good in theory. But let's face it, Puerto Rico has 33 summer sports federations and yet the island has only ever won Olympic medals in the sport of boxing.

What does that tell you? It tells me that we should stick to boxing. Who wants to see snow in San Juan, anyway?

Curses, foiled again.

Félix Trinidad Sr.'s lawsuit seeking to stop the P.R. Boxing Commission from awarding John Ruiz Boxer of the Year honors was rejected by San Juan's court of appeals on Tuesday.

Trinidad Sr. had filed suit after the Commission announced it had selected heavyweight champion Ruiz instead of his son, Félix Trinidad, or two of his other fighters, Fres Oquendo and Nelson Dieppa.

As I said in last week's column, Trinidad Sr. was well within his right to appeal. He did. Now it's time to get on with the business of awarding Ruiz Boxer of the Year honors.

Ruiz, who was born and raised in Massachussetts, arrived in Puerto Rico earlier this week and is staying with his mother in Sabana Grande.

Trinidad Sr., who last March questioned whether Ruiz was Puerto Rican because he wasn't born and raised on the island, reiterated this week that he wasn't attacking Ruiz on that front anymore.

"His nationality isn't the issue here. This is about his residency," Trinidad Sr. told reporters in an effort to clarify his objection to the Commission's decision. "He doesn't live here or have a boxing license here so he shouldn't be chosen Boxer of the Year."

The NBA in San Juan?

NBA Latin America officials Arturo Nuñez and Gabriel Gabor were in San Juan this week to check out Roberto Clemente Coliseum and the newly built Puerto Rico Arena, which is located in the middle of Hato Rey and due to be completed this year.

Promoter Angelo Medina is trying to convince NBA officials to make Puerto Rico a stop for a 2003 NBA exhibition game. The last time Puerto Rico hosted an NBA exhibition game was 1994.

Medina, who manages the career of pop icon Ricky Martin, is also the franchise holder of the Superior Basketball League's Santurce Crabbers. The Crabbers have won the league title for the past four seasons.

Moscoso Bridge 10K draws 5,000 runners

South Africa's Hendrick Ramaala and Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe won the men's and women's races, respectively, this past Sunday at the Moscoso Bridge 10K in San Juan.

Ramaala was clocked in 28 minutes, 15 seconds. Radcliffe, meanwhile, was four seconds off world record pace for the 6.2 miles on the road in 30:43.

More than 5,000 runners crossed the bridge, a participation record for a 10K in Puerto Rico.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the most recent recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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