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Puerto Rico Gears Up For Pan Am Games

By Gabrielle Paese

August 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The best cure for the summertime blues? How about a sporting August? The Pan Am Games get under way this weekend in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico's delegation numbers some 235 and medal hopes are running high.

In its last Pan Am Games at-bat (Winnipeg, 1999), Puerto Rico won 13 medals -- its lone gold coming from Hobie 16 sailor Quique Figueroa and his wife, Carla Malatrassi. The two are already in the Dominican sailing venue of Boca Chica practicing to defend their title.

Other potential medalists include gymnasts Diego Lizardi and Luis Felipe Vargas, wrestlers Mabel Fonseca and Matt White, 400-meter hurdler Yvonne Harrison, showjumper Mark Watring, weightlifter Ruth Rivera, judoka Roxanna Garcia, fencer Jonathan Pena, taekwondo fighter Ineabelle Diaz, swimmers Ricky Busquets and Andrew Livingston, diver Angelique Rodriguez and tennis players Kristina Brandi and Vilmarie Castellvi. Puerto Rico's boxers and men's basketball team are also likely candidates to win medals.

Lizardi, a veteran of three Pan Am Games ('91, '95 and '99) will carry Puerto Rico's flag in the opening ceremonies. It's an honor conferred on a veteran and well decorated athlete. Lizardi, who began competing internationally when he was just 13, deserves it. He was a bronze medalist in Winnipeg on the still rings. His teammate, Vargas, who had a stellar freshman season for Penn State, also won bronze in Winnipeg (high bar).

Fonseca and White are the two wrestlers most likely to win medals, although there are others on the team, like veteran Jose Betancourt, who could surprise. Fonseca, was a bronze medalist in her weight class (63 kilos) at the world championships. She is the undisputed Pan American wrestling champion. A former member of the Cuban national judo team, Fonseca took up wrestling after defecting in 1993. She was a Pan Am Games gold medalist at 45 kilos in judo for Cuba. White is also a Pan Am wrestling champion, who just missed Olympic qualifying in 2000.

Harrison is right on target to win at the Pan Am Games in the 400-meter hurdles. Her best clocking, 55.03 seconds ranks her eighth in the world. She's been tuning up for Santo Domingo on the Grand Prix circuit and won one event recently in Osaka, Japan. Weightlifter Ruth Rivera is coming off a bronze medalist at the World University weightlifting games; Pena has spent most of this year on the fencing circuit in Europe. Brandi is a former WTA top 50 player on her way back up and Castellvi was runner-up at the NCAA tennis finals this year. She made her pro debut this summer.

Six of Puerto Rico's 13 medal winners from Winnipeg won't be back to defend this time around. Manuel Garcia, a bronze medalist at 76 kilos in wrestling, retired from the sport. Judoka Carlos Mendez is not on this year's team, nor is Vanessa Medina, in taekwondo. Weightlifter Edries Gonzalez was stripped of his bronze medal in 1999 after failing a doping test. Robert De Jesus will not defend in racquetball and boxer Ivan Calderon has moved on to a successful pro career.

This year's group of boxers includes Victor Bisbal and Joseph Serrano, both Central American-Caribbean Games gold medalists last year, as well as Carlos Valcarcel, Juan Velazquez, Carlos Velazquez, Alex De Jesus, Miguel Almonte and Gerardo Bisbal.

Puerto Rico's basketball team is defending a bronze medal in a tournament that features eight teams and is a prelude to the Olympic Qualifier to be held in San Juan's Roberto Clemente Coliseum beginning Aug. 20. Pan Am Games basketball starts on Saturday and FIBA America was working to set up a competitive four-day tournament.

Eddie Casiano and Jose "Piculin" Ortiz, two of Puerto Rico's best shooters, are likely to sit out the Pan Am Games to rest up for the Olympic Qualifier. Coach Julio Toro expects to pare down the team on Friday from its current roster of 15 to the 12-man requirement. Toro is coming from winning his 11th Superior Basketball League title last week as his Santurce Cangrejeros swept the Ponce Leones in three games in the finals.

Olympic Qualifying draw set

Puerto Rico will play Argentina, Canada, Mexico and Uruguay in first-round action of Olympic Qualifying Aug. 20 in San Juan while the U.S. Dream Team, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the U.S. Virgin Islands make up Group B. In that first round, the top four teams advance, and FIBA American general secretary Genaro "Tuto" Marchand promised plenty of basketball for the fans.

Puerto Rico debuts versus Uruguay Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket packages have been on sale for more than a week. Individual ticket sales just started and can you can buy tickets at

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

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

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