Fifty-two years ago, the Dominican Republic participated in the Olympic Games for the first time with only 1 athlete. In Rio 2016, 29 Dominican men and women went out on the playing field.
With a history of 7 Olympic medals, this country has come a long way in sports. For a nation where baseball is king, having Olympic medalists in track and field, boxing, and taekwondo is a huge deal.
Dominican Republic already has 2 Olympic medals in taekwondo, and it could have more in the near future.
This is where we find Katherine Rodríguez, a 23-year-old Santiago native, who knew exactly what she wanted when she qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio. “I want to be the first woman to win an Olympic medal in taekwondo,” she says. Rodríguez, a gold medal winner in the Pan American Games in Toronto, does not accept the limitations that society imposes many times over women. “We can do the same as any of the guys who compete in the Games.”
Though she did not fulfill her dream, being defeated during her only fight in Rio, Rodríguez is still the main female figure in her sport, and she sees the chance to make her hopes a reality in Tokyo 2020.
And while some follow their sports dreams with their kicks, others do it with their fists.
Being born in the poor capital neighborhood of Katanga, in Los Mina, was not an obstacle for Leonel De Los Santos. At eight years old, he began to follow in the footsteps of his father, former boxer Leonardo Osvaldo De Los Santos, and in 2014, he won the gold medal in the Central American and the Caribbean Games in Veracruz. In the Pan American Games in Toronto he lost to Antonio Vargas from the USA, but he later defeated this same opponent to get his ticket to Rio.
Another athlete who is part of this new breed of Dominican talent, is tennis player José “El Bebo” Hernández, already known as Victor Estrella’s doubles and Davis Cup partner.
There is also the 21-year-old gymnast Audrys Nin Reyes. When he was only 9-years old, he left his parents and 5 siblings in his native Barahona to become part of the Dominican Gymnastics Federation’s program in Santo Domingo for the new talents in the sport. Nin did not qualify for Rio, after suffering an injury in two of his fingers on his right hand, which did not allow him to properly perform his routine on the parallel bars to obtain the required marks. “But I’m focused on keeping up the hard work to make the cut for Tokyo 2020,” he explains.
In table tennis, there is another name that shines bright. Eva Brito has dedicated 15 of her 20 years to the tick-tocks of the ball over the mesonite. In the Pan American Games in Guadalajara 2011, she brought home the team gold, representing the country along with Nieves Xue and Johenny Valdez. In Toronto 2015, she won one of three individual matches showing the potential she has to climb to the top of an extremely competitive sport. If her career continues as it has so far, chances are she will return from the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima with her name in the medal count.
Swimmer Johnny Pérez is another athlete worth mentioning after his participation in Rio 2016. Pérez did not advance to the semifinals. He won his heat with a time of 51:50 but was three seconds too slow to advance to the next round. Even so, the young man has a promising profile, and is expected to make his presence felt in future international events.
With athletes such as Rodríguez, De Los Santos, Hernández, Nin Reyes, Pérez and Brito, the Dominican Republic has the talent for future wins in the Central American and the Caribbean Games, the Pan American Games and the Olympics.