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Puerto Rico's Four Greatest Athletic Moments

By Sean Jensen, SportsEngine, 09/28/18, 3:45PM CDT


Olympic successes rank high among the most memorable achievements for the U.S. territory

Monica Puig, Roberto Clemente and Carlos Arroyo all achieved athletic greatness as three of the biggest names in the Caribbean island's athletic history.

Monica Puig of Puerto Rico won Olympic gold in 2016 in women's singles tennis. Getty Images

Dr. Antonio Sotomayor is a native of Puerto Rico, born and educated in San Juan until he continued his collegiate studies in the United States. A professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Illinois, Sotomayor has studied and watched many of Puerto Rico’s sports highlights.

He declined to list them in order, but here is his take of Puerto Rico’s four greatest athletic moments:

Monica Puig

Monica Puig, gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics: “It was historic. And just the context of that win is important. It’s also a very important sport, tennis, which was invented in England. It was an extremely important win from a player who wasn’t a favorite, by any means. At a time where Puerto Rico needed it, to know Puerto Ricans can win and excel.”

Carlos Arroyo

Puerto Rico men’s basketball team, group play at the 2004 Athens Olympics: Puerto Rico upset the U.S., which featured stars such Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, among others, 92-73 on August 15, 2004. Carlos Arroyo led all scorers with 24 points. “If we are within 10, it’s a success. Then we beat them by 19? It was out of this world. Like a script from a movie.”

Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente, passing away on Dec. 31, 1972: “Reaching 3,000 hits was very important. But most important was that he passed away around Christmas while taking aid packages to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. He’s the gold standard of Puerto Rican sport. You want to be as good as him, on and off the field, period. People fight over the No. 21.”

2018 Winter Olympics

Every Olympics that Puerto Rico participates in: “It’s a recurring moment. We don’t have political sovereignty. But we can go and compete as a sovereign Olympic nation. When we go and say, ‘Here we are.’ That is extraordinary. We’re small, and we might not win that many medals, but it’s important to participate.”

About Sean Jensen

Sean Jensen was born in South Korea, but he was raised in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, mostly on or near military bases. Given his unique background, he's always been drawn to storytelling, a skill he developed at Northwestern University and crafted for the last 16 years, almost exclusively covering the NFL. Sean lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife, two children and dog. Read more

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