I received an e-mail late last night from my sister. The subject read, "¡¡¡VIVA PANAMA!!!" I assumed it was one of those forwards my mom, aunt, and sister like to circulate, and so I decided it could wait.
This afternoon the Brits were squawking about all the medals they've won in this Olympics and how it's reinvigorated their country. The Nigerian who sits opposite me was relieved when he learned his country finally won their first medal of this Games, being guaranteed at least a silver in soccer. You hear this sort of thing often enough, curiosity gets the better of you. I gave in and checked the medal count, searching for Panamá and expecting to find only disappointment.
I found the only stat line I care about from this Olympics: Panamá, 1 Gold, 0 Silver, 0 Bronze, 1 Total.
My first reaction was a strange mixture of disappointment (that Panamá had only won one medal), surprise (that Panamá had won a medal), lack of surprise (that Panamá had won only one medal), and pride (that the one medal Panamá won was a Gold medal).
Several minutes later I thought, "Wait a minute, when was the last time Panamá won an Olympic medal?" I know of a few Panamanian Olympians, even know a couple personally, but I couldn't recall ever hearing of a medalist. So I looked it up.
Panamá had previously only won two bronze medals in its entire history, both by Lloyd LaBeach in the 100 metres and 200 metres at the 1948 Olympics. 1948!!!
When I got home late tonight, I got sucked into the Olympic spirit. The e-mail from my sister was indeed about Panamá's Gold medal win. My mom called to ask if I had heard about Panamá's Gold medal win. My dad made an LJ post about Panamá's Gold medal win.
Have I mentioned yet that Panamá won a Gold medal?
I've scoured the net for information. There are videos showing the jump, the medal ceremony, news coverage in Panamá and elsewhere in Latin America, people partying in the streets. There are interviews and stories. There is even a song!
It seems Irving Saladino has become a national hero overnight. If all the accolades weren't enough, if having a song written overnight to commemorate your win weren't enough, if taking a lap around Olympic stadium with the Panamanian flag draped around your shoulders or standing atop the podium watching your flag being hoisted while your country's stirring Himno Nacional is broadcast to the world… there in the front row of the stadium was Panamá's sports icon, Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran, symbolically passing the torch of national sports hero to you.
What's more impressive is that Saladino did this on an injured leg. Apparently Saladino has had troubles with tendonitis in his right knee and ankle for the past year. He was gunning for the World Record. He owns the South American record, and last year at the World Championships in Osaka he jumped farther than anyone had in 14 years, placing him 7th on the all-time list. He says he has jumped farther in training, so don't be surprised if, in the next year or two, one of the hardest world records to set is claimed by a Panamanian, Irving Saladino.