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PUERTO RICO HERALD
"The Angel Of Puerto Rico," Angelita Lind Stretches Her Wings
By Gabrielle Paese
June 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
A heart-wrenching fall at the finish line of the 800 meters during the 1982 Central American-Caribbean Games was not exactly how runner Angelita Lind wanted to be remembered.
But there it is. Ask anyone who even remotely followed sports during that fateful summer, and they'll tell you this: The Cuban girls knocked down Angelita, "the Angel of Puerto Rico, so she wouldn't win the race.
Twenty one years later, the fall is part of Puerto Rican lore.
"People still stop me on the street to talk about 1982," said Lind earlier this week during a break from her duties as assistant athletic director at Inter American University in San German. "I won the gold medal during those games in the 1,500 meters, but all people remember is that 800-meter race."
Sportscaster Elliott Castro remembers it too. He narrated the action for Telemundo trackside from Havana that day.
"The two Cuban runners were working together. During the first lap, one took the lead and the other ran behind her, but off to the right. Angelita was trapped on the inside," said Castro of Cuban runners Eloine Kerr and Nery McKeen. "At the beginning of the second lap, Angelita worked her way out and took the lead. She was about four or five strides ahead of the first Cuban. Then, with 50 meters to go, her coordination failed her. She started to weave out of the inside lane, where she was running and her arms started moving from side to side instead of from back to front. Meanwhile, the Cuban runner was coming up on her right, and she also started to flail. It was as though both of them suddenly got very tired from the great effort and their bodies could no longer continue. The second Cuban runner, who was perhaps the strongest of all, was hard on Angelita's heels behind her. Right at the finish line the two Cuban girls ran into each other and they both knocked Angelita down.
"Angelita's feet were crossing the finish line, but because the Cuban fell into Angelita from behind, it was the Cuban who actually crossed the finish line first. The rule in track and field is that the first torso across the line wins. The judges determined, after hours of deliberation, that it was the Cuban's torso that crossed the line ahead of Angelita. Angelita was awarded the silver medal."
With the wisdom of years past, Lind no longer sees the fall as a gold medal lost. She looks out at the big picture.
"There was so much turmoil at those CAC Games because the government and the Olympic Committee were at odds," said Lind.
It was the year that P.R. Olympic Committee president German Rieckehoff and then-Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo faced off, with Romero Barcelo withholding government support for the athletic delegation headed to Cuba. Rieckehoff shot back with an "Olympic charity" campaign. He appealed directly to the people and collected donations to fund the delegation's trip.
"It was my fall that united the people of Puerto Rico," said Lind. "For the first time, they forgot about the fight between the Olympic Committee and the government and concentrated on the sport."
The fall also served to inspire future runners, Lind said.
"At that time everyone felt that the Cubans were impossible to beat," said Lind. "Puerto Rico watched me run and realized for the first time the potential that women have. They saw that this jibarita [country girl] had the courage to get out there and hold her own against the Cubans."
To her surprise, Lind has also discovered that Puerto Rico has not forgotten.
"I was asked to give a talk to some schoolchildren recently in Gurabo. The physical education teacher had actually recounted the event to the kids and showed them the video of my fall," said Lind. "I relived the moment as I watched it again but I was so proud to see that there are people who are taking the trouble to pass the lesson along."
The 800 meters still sends Lind into a panic, despite the fact that her 2:01.31 clocking in 1984 is to this day a Puerto Rican record as is her 1,500-meter best (4:16.68 set in San Juan in 1980).
Next month, at age 44, Puerto Rico's "angel" returns to the track for an encore flight. This time, she'll compete in the World Masters Athletics Championships, which Puerto Rico will host from July 2-12.
"That race in 1982 was a long time ago, but people still see me and associate me with it. They still think I have the capabilities that I had in 1982," said the pride and glory of Patillas. "People have come up to me and said, 'You have to beat the Cubans.' But now it's different. I am no longer in the kind of shape I was back then, I'm much older and so much has changed. I'm glad that the people of Puerto Rico are excited to see me run again. It makes me feel really good, but I hope people understand that I won't be able to clock the kind of times I did 20 years ago."
For this meet, Lind's first Masters Worlds, she plans to run the 1,500 and compete in the 4x400-meter relay. While the relay team is not yet set, there's talk of having Lind, Marie Lande Mathieu and Vilma and Nilsa Paris pass the baton.
Just prior to those CAC Games in 1982 in Houston, Lind teamed up with Mathieu, Margaret de Jesus and Stephanie Vega to run the 4x400 in 3:34. The record stood on the local books for 19 years until it was finally bested by Militza Castro, Sandra Moya, Yvonne Harrison and Yamelis Ortiz. Mathieu, at age 46, was timed in 57.04 for the 400 meters two weeks ago during a tuneup meet.
"With that kind of clocking, she would have won the Justas [Puerto Rico's intercollegiate track and field championships]," said Inter American University track coach Freddy Vargas.
When asked whether it meant Mathieu is spectacular for her age or just that the university women are incredibly slow, Vargas said: "A little of both."
Lind swears she's not at Mathieu's fitness level, but promised she'll be giving it her all come July 2.
"The training has not been easy. I've run into a lot of problems, I get in shape, something happens, and then I have to start all over again," said Lind. "I am now just recovering from three days of fever. But I feel so obligated to this event, that I even went out jogging those three days to try to sweat it out."
Lind's spectacular running career, during which she won six Central American-Caribbean Games records, wound down in the late '80s, despite victorious reappearances in the early '90s, including a gold medal performance in those same 800 meters during the Central American-Caribbean track and field championships in 1991. She was a frequent competitor (and winner) in the half marathon and 10K distances on Puerto Rico's roads throughout the '90s.
Her advice to young runners today: Take advantage of all the training trips and opportunities to compete regionally and internationally.
"My biggest obstacle was lack of tune-up meets," said Lind. "I thik I could have run the 800 meters in under 2 minutes if I would have had the chance to travel and test myself against other athletes. I see athletes today and how they can travel to meets. In my day it was such a big deal just to leave Patillas."
The entire Masters track and field community will converge in Carolina, Puerto Rico, July 2 for the Masters Worlds. More than 2,000 athletes over the age of 35 are expected. Sports Medicine Clinic's Dr. Dwight Santiago, who sits on the organizing community and will oversee medical services for the athletes, said turnout is better than expected considering international current events.
Because of the summer heat in Puerto Rico, Dr. Santiago is cautioning the athletes to take special measures to stay hydrated, especially because many of the events will be run during the day. For more information about the meet, check out the event website at www.puertorico2003.org.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.