The Colombian sporting year in review

Colombian sporting year in review
Colombia managed a haul of eight medals at this year’s Olympic Games.

This has been a memorable year. In fact, in sporting terms, it is fair to say that 2016 has been the best year in Colombian history. With three gold medals at the Olympic Games and two more at the Paralympic Games, the Copa Libertadores trophy for Atlético Nacional, the Vuelta a España victory for Nairo Quintana and three more Colombian podium spots in the grand tours, it’s a unique set of achievements. Freek Huigen gives you a rundown of the successes and disappointments this year.


Olympic Games

Three gold, two silver and three bronze medals was the final tally for Colombia in Rio. In 17 days, Óscar Figueroa, Mariana Pajón and Caterine Ibargüen more than doubled the all time gold medal count for their country. Figueroa, silver medallist in London 2012, took a shock victory in the weightlifting 58kg category. Ibargüen triumphed in superior style, with a 15.17m leap in the triple jump. Mariana Pajón won all the BMX qualifier races and went on to take the final. Following her successful Olympic debut with a gold medal in 2012, the BMX queen looks set to continue her reign.

Judoka Yuri Alvear was another favourite for the title, but she was denied the gold medal. The 30-year-old clinched hard fought victories on her way to the final against Haruka Tachimoto. However, the Japanese athlete countered Alvear’s hip throw attempt with a rear take-down and then pinned the Colombian for the maximum ippon score leaving Alvear with the silver medal. Yuberjen Martínez also took a boxing silver medal in the light flyweight category.

Weightlifter Luis Javier Mosquera is still waiting for his bronze medal. He finished fourth in the weightlifting 62kg category just behind Kyrgyzstan’s Izzat Artykov who was later stripped of his bronze medal after a positive doping test. Ingrit Valencia won the boxing bronze medal in the 51kg category and Carlos Ramírez took the eighth Colombian Olympic medal when he took third place in the men’s BMX, after an agonisingly close photo finish.

Colombian sporting year in review
Óscar Figueroa after his gold medal winning lift.

Paralympic Games

The Paralympic Games, traditionally held in the month after the Olympic Games, saw Colombia take their only gold medals since the first edition in 1980. Eighteen-year-old swimmer Carlos Serrano scooped the coveted prize in the 100m breaststroke SB7, and Mauricio Valencia added another gold medal to the tally in the javelin throw F34 category.

With a total of 17 medals, the Colombian paralympic athletes set a historic performance for the country, improving on the previous total of six.

Colombian sporting year in review
Colombian paralympians Carlos Serrano and Mauricio Valencia.

Copa Libertadores trophy

A dominant Atlético Nacional took the 2016 Copa Libertadores victory, the second in the history of the club. The Medellín side, managed by Reinaldo Rueda proved the strongest in South America’s equivalent of the Champions league. Nacional didn’t concede a single goal in the group stage and went on to beat Argentinian sides Huracán and Rosario Central in the following rounds.

The semi-final tie against Sao Paulo from Brazil was decided by four goals from future star Miguel Borja. In the final, Nacional were the favourites against surprise finalist Independiente Del Valle from Ecuador. The 15-time Colombian league champion claimed a draw away from home and another goal from Borja sealed the third Colombian Copa Libertadores trophy in the 57-year-history of the tournament.

Colombian sporting year in review
2016 Copa Libertadores winners Atlético Nacional.

Cycling

Nairo Quintana had his eyes set on the Tour de France this year, but the 26-year-old Colombian had an invincible rival in Chris Froome. After some physical problems he finished third and switched his sights to the Vuelta a España. Froome followed suit and a fascinating battle panned out.

The rider from Combita, Boyacá, handed out some small punches in the early stages but Froome followed closely until a spectacular breakaway in stage 15 broke the Briton’s resistance. Quintana was joined on the podium in Madrid by fellow Colombian Esteban Chaves who claimed the third spot. For the bogotano, exactly 18 days older than Quintana, it was the second time he occupied a spot on a grand tour podium in 2016 after his heroic second place in the Giro d’Italia.

Chaves finished a fantastic season with the Giro di Lombardia victory, becoming the first Colombian to ever win a “monument”, the classic one-day races in Europe.

This year also saw escarabajos Miguel Ángel López, Jarlinson Pantano, Fernando Gaviria, Rigoberto Urán and Nairo’s younger brother Dayer Quintana take international victories.

Colombian sporting year in review
Nairo missed out on the Tour de France, but made up for the loss with victory in the Vuelta a España.

Copa América

The centennial edition of the event – also dubbed the unwanted Copa América – was held in the United States and saw a refreshed Colombia team take third place. With a spectacular number of ten players active in the Colombian league, never seen before under Pékerman’s command, el tricolor went past the United States and Paraguay without problems.

After the Colombian reserves tripped over Costa Rica, a game of no importance as Colombia had already qualified for the next round, the national side eliminated Peru in a thrilling penalty shootout. In the semifinals they were no match for the on-fire Chileans but another victory over the United States brought them the bronze medal.

Colombian sporting year in review
The Colombian national side finished a respectable 3rd at the Copa América.

BMX

The Olympic gold medal for Mariana Pajón and bronze medal for Carlos Ramirez in Rio de Janeiro were the highlights, but Pajón also took the top spot in the other big tournament this year. On the newly built BMX track in Medellín named after the two-time Olympic Champion herself, Pajón took the gold medal at the 2016 BMX World Championships.

Colombian sporting year in review
Mariana Pajón celebrates her olympic success.

Athletics

Caterine Ibargüen took her leap into the spotlights on August 14 with the Olympic title in the triple jump. It wasn’t her only major title this year – for the fourth straight year, the athlete from Apartadó also won the Diamond League Series. Her winning streak of 34 competitions in a row had come to an end in June, but it turned out to be just a minor glitch in what was otherwise a great season.

At 29, the athletics delegation in Rio de Janeiro was one of the biggest sports for Colombia at the games, but others failed to reach the podium, though men’s triple jump athlete John Murillo came close, jumping to fifth place in the competition

Caterine Ibargüen, Colombian sporting year in review
Caterine Ibargüen takes the gold medal with 15.17

Track cycling

Fernando Gaviria travelled to Rio as track cycling World Champion in the omnium discipline. At the World Championships in London, the 22-year-old cyclist was invincible, leaving his competitors far behind him. But in Rio de Janeiro, he couldn’t live up to the expectations.

Gaviria opened poorly and was never in contention for the victory. He finally had to settle for fourth place behind Elia Viviani, Mark Cavendish and Lasse Hansen, who had finished fourth, sixth and fifth respectively in the World Championships Gaviria had won earlier this year. Fabian Puerta, an outsider for silverware finished in a respectable fifth place at the Keirin discipline in Rio.

Fernando Gaviria, Colombian sporting year in review
Fernando Gaviria takes 4th place in omnium. Photo: Comité Olímpico Colombia

Speed skating

Colombia, unbeaten in inline speed skating since 2009, won a new World Championship title in Nanjing, China. The Colombian delegation won 20 victories out of the 47 competitions, leaving France (who took five gold medals) far behind them.

Pedro Causil, who changed his inline skates for ice skates in 2015 finished his first season in his new sport at the bottom of the table. At the start of this season in November the panorama looked brighter as Causil claimed his first World Cup point for Colombia at the World Cup in Harbin, China.

Colombian sporting year in review
The Colombian speed skating team.

Motor Sports

The 2016 IndyCar series season started on a high with a victory for Juan Pablo Montoya at the opening race in St Petersburg, Florida. However, this was not the hoped-for start of a glorious season for the Colombian drivers as it turned out to be the only Grand Prix win they would get. Carlos Muñoz had a discrete season with the second place in the Indianapolis 500 as stand out result.

In the MotoGP, Yonny Hernandez finished rock bottom, picking up 20 championship points on his Ducati from Aspar Racing Team. As a result Hernández didn’t get a new contract for 2017 in the MotoGP and after five years in the MotoGP he will drop down to the Moto2.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Colombian sporting year in review
Juan Pablo Montoya won in St Petersburg to give Team Penske its eighth victory in the IndyCar season opener.

Boxing

At the start of the year Óscar Escandón took the featherweight title in the WBC. He took the title by defeating Mexican, Robinson Castellanos in a seventh-round knockout. Escandón, a one-time Olympian in 2004, went home with the title strip over his shoulder for the second time, after a WBA interim title in the super bantamweight in 2014.

Where Escandón was ineligible for the Olympic Games due to his status as a professional, Yuberjen Martinez and Ingrit Valencia held the honours up for Colombia in Rio. Martinez won Colombian hearts by stating after every victory that his real motivation was to be able to buy a house for his mother with the prize money from an Olympic medal. Martinez made it to the finals, but the favourite from Uzbekistan, Hasanboy Dusmatov proved too strong and he finished with silver. Valencia claimed victories over Judith Mbougane and Peamwilai Laopeam, before France’s Sarah Ourahmoune beat Valencia on points in the semifinals leaving her with the bronze medal.

Óscar Escandón, Colombian sporting year in review
Óscar Escandón after his WBA featherweight win.

Squash

Miguel Rodríguez started the year ranked number five in the world but lost ground after some painful first round defeats in China, Hong Kong and the United States. A third round showing in the World Championships in Cairo at the end of October brought him back into the top ten, which he will try to defend in what is left of 2016.

Miguel Rodriguez, Colombian sporting year in review
Miguel Rodriguez finished the year in the top 10 in the world rankings.

Tennis

Colombian doubles duo Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah had a good season with ATP tournament victories in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow and Nice, but in the end they came just short of qualification for ATP World Tour Finals in London. The team finished in tenth place, where the top eight qualified, so they missed out on the season finale.

The Davis Cup didn’t go too well for Colombia. In a tie against Chile, the lower ranked home side got the better of the coffee nation, meaning they failed to reach the world group. However, they then pushed aside tennis minnows Dominican Republic to stay in the highest American zone.

Colombian sporting year in review
The Colombian Davis Cup team.

Gymnastics

There were high hopes for silverware from Jossimar Calvo in Rio. The flag bearer in the Olympic opening ceremony put up a strong performance, and in a very competitive all-around final the gymnast from Cúcuta finished in tenth place.

For Catalina Escobar the Olympic Games ended in disappointment. Escobar, who wasn’t tipped as one of the outsiders for a medal, sprained both ankles in a bad landing on her floor exercise, forcing her to withdraw from the rest of the tournament.

Colombian sporting year in review
Jossimar Calvo was tipped to do well in Rio but ended up coming home empty handed.

Golf

Camilo Villegas had an average season in the PGA tour without any top ten finishes. Countryman Sebastian Muñoz competed in the Web.com tour, the PGA development tour. With a tournament victory at the Club Colombia Championship in Bogotá in February he was off to a good start, but failed to reach the cut in 15 out of the 21 tournaments following his victory and finished the season in 24th place.

Both men were absent from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, but María José Uribe defended the tricolour in the women’s tournament. Uribe, regularly active at the Ladies PGA tour, exceeded expectations by finishing in 19th place.

Colombian sporting year in review
Camilo Villegas hopes to improve upon a mediocre 2016.

By Freek Huigen

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