It’s been a great year for Colombian sport in a host of disciplines. Alexander James runs through the highlights…
Many teams and individuals have had a taste of success on the world stage this year. Particularly pleasing is the sheer range of disciplines that Colombian athletes are excelling in. Here we take a quick look at the year that was in Colombian sport.
After an eye-catching performance at the World Cup in Brazil, Colombia was regarded as one of the big dogs in men’s international football, starting this year at number four in the FIFA rankings. However, their good form did not continue into 2015, with key players James Rodríguez and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado not hitting form in the Copa América as the team eventually bowed out meekly in the quarter finals, scoring just one goal in the process. The year has finished in more or less the same fashion, with the early stages of the qualification cycle for Russia 2018 bringing about four points in four games. ‘La Selección’ definitely has enough talent to improve, although it has been struggling to show it.
It was also a promising year for women’s football, as the Colombians began their second-ever global tournament. Their record of one win, one draw and a loss saw them qualify for the second round in which they fell to eventual World Champion and world number one, USA. Remarkably, the third choice ’keeper managed to get some game time due to a slew of suspensions. The current Colombian women’s side is now seen as a South American powerhouse and, with a ticket for the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 in their pocket, they are expected to follow their breakthrough year in style.
Success in cycling for Colombia in 2015 definitely centres on wonderkid Nairo Quintana, who finished second again in this year’s Tour de France. His performance was outstanding right up until the penultimate stage, as he piled attack after attack onto eventual winner Chris Froome. Adrift by only 1 minute and 12 seconds at the finish line, Quintana was more than worthy of a podium place and is hoping to go one better in 2016.
Another notable mention should go to the now-disbanded Team Colombia, who took the team classification for the Tour of San Luis, The Tour of Luxembourg and the Tour of Utah. Mountain specialist Rodolfo Torres was prominent in almost every race.
The future looks bright for rugby in Colombia. Against all odds, the women’s national 7s side defeated Argentina to qualify for their first ever international competition: the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Still a minor sport in Colombia, rugby will be put on the international stage in this fast-paced tournament which is bound to grow exponentially thanks to the hard-working 7s ‘Tucanes’.
The men’s premier side have also had a great year, winning their second consecutive South America ‘B’ Division championship and rising to an all-time high world ranking of 44. They will play Brazil this month for promotion to the continent’s top division and even more exposure to big-time competition.
Colombian dynamo Miguel Ángel Rodríguez has had a red-letter year in 2015, rising to a career-best fourth place in the world rankings. Victories in this year’s Pan-American Games in September as well as the Motor City Open have catapulted him to the highest position attained by any South American squash player in the history of the sport. His next aim is to put himself in contention for either the World Open or the British Open, the two most prestigious events on the calendar.
History was made as the largest athletics event staged on the South American continent to-date was held in Cali in June. The IAAF World Youth Championships was a roaring success with the vibrant atmosphere proving to be an excellent warm-up to the Olympics next year in Brazil. Unfortunately, Colombia did not manage to get on the medals table, despite many encouraging performances.
The lack of medals for Colombia at the IAAF World Youth Championships was more than made up for at the Pan-Am games where Muriel Coneo won her 1500m final and the imperious Caterine Ibargüen, who has not lost a triple jump competition for the last thousand days, continued her dominant reign, picking up gold yet again. She then capped off her year by winning the World Championships in Beijing with a huge leap of 14.90m.
Colombia has been the top dog in the discipline of inline speed-skating for many years now. The national team has dominated the world year after year and 2015 was no exception.
At the World Championships held in Chinese Taipei, Team Colombia won an amazing one-third of the total medals on offer and over half of all the titles. Amongst the medal-winners for Colombia were Luz Karime Garzón (junior women’s), Andrés Jímenez, Johana Viveros, Juan Sebastián Sanz, Juan Perez, Geiny Pajaro, Jaime Uribe, Alvaro Carrasquilla, Yersi Puello, Edwin Estrada and many more. A huge success from an exceptional performance.
Colombia’s boxing flag-bearer in 2015 was once again Darleys Pérez, who started his year with a challenge from Peruvian Jonathan Maicelo, who he defeated with a unanimous decision, retaining his coveted WBA Lightweight title. However, things got a lot tighter in his next fight in June against Anthony Crolla from the United Kingdom. The three judges could not separate the two fighters, handing down a draw, meaning Pérez kept his title – just.
The inevitable rematch was not so even, with Crolla engaging Pérez from the outset. His domination was complete when the fight had to be stopped after a brutal body shot put Pérez on the canvas. Unable to beat the count, Pérez lost his belt to the Englishman.
Indycar – The phrase ‘Always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ is painfully apt for Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya who finished second, despite winning the famed Indianapolis 500 and leading for most of the season by finishing consistently well throughout the gruelling campaign. Even crueller was the fact that the eventual winner Scott Dixon of New Zealand won in a tie-breaker after the two drivers finished equal on points. Due to winning one more race, Dixon usurped Montoya on the final day, leading to bitter complaints from the wronged Colombian about the scoring system. Gabby Chaves took a prize home, though, winning the rookie of the year trophy.
MotoGP – After a tough season on the MotoGP circuit this year finishing 14th, Yonny Hernandez has signed with the well-respected and competitive ‘Aspar’ team. Run by former Spanish world champion Jorge Martin and powered by the world-famous Ducati motorcycles, Yonny has an excellent chance to better his results in 2016.
Colombian weightlifters continue to impress in top level competition, having taken home 13 medals (eight gold) at the Pan-American games, with the women’s events bearing five gold, in a particularly fruitful campaign.
In the just-completed IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) World Championships, Colombia finished with a number of top-ten placings, just not cracking the podium on this occasion. Antonio Francisco Mosquera Valencia was the closest to a medal, finishing an agonising fourth place in the 62kg division. However, this is a great step forward for all competitors prior to next year’s Olympics.
Jossimar Calvo became the first man to take three gold medals in a single edition of a Pan-American games, a remarkable achievement within a field of athletes from the USA and Canada. The man from Cúcuta has yet to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio next year after a disappointing performance at the World Championships in Glasgow, but is determined to continue putting in strong performances.
Judo – Yet another Colombian athlete in line for an Olympic Medal is Yuri Alvear. Her recent bronze medals at both the Pan-Am games in Toronto and the World Judo Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan, have given her impetus going into 2016.
Taekwondo – Different discipline, same result. Katherine Dumar excelled beyond expectations taking the bronze medal in the welterweight under 67kg category at the Taekwondo World Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, putting her in contention for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Debuting at their first South American championships, Colombia were not fancied at all to take the title. But after defeating Perú in their opening game, other teams stood up and took notice. A tightly fought contest against tournament regulars Argentina resulted in a narrow loss that dented their hopes of progressing, but an incredible last-gasp victory over México resurrected their hopes of making the final. Unfortunately, tournament hosts Chile proved too much for the plucky Colombians and a respectable fourth placed finish was the end result, not bad for a first effort.
By Alexander James