Lochte! Lochte! Lochte! are the recurring chants that still echo in my head throughout this London Olympics 2012 where Latinos have made a stride towards athletic greatness. From Dominican runner Félix Sánchez at 35 years of age winning gold at the 400 meter hurdles, to Colombian cyclist Rigoberto Uran almost pulling an Olympic upset, to Argentinian tennis sensation Juan Martin Del Potro challenging his preeminence Roger Federer to a 4 hour and 26 minute epic duel that included the longest three-set match in tennis history, to Cuban-American Ryan Lochte making us forget the greatest Olympian in history in Michael Phelps, even if only for a brief moment.
The sun is surprisingly bright at the London 2012 Olympics where the American and Latino athletic spirit is alive and well. At the time of this writing, Americans have won a total of 63 medals, 29 of them gold, while all ten participating Spanish-speaking countries have amassed 36 medals combined, and counting.
I was fortunate enough to attend four Olympics events – two Women’s Gymnastics events, Men and Women’s Swimming and Men and Women’s Beach Volleyball. But before I get to my extra sensorial experiences with them, I opted first for a quick stroll through the vintage and royal streets of London. After guided tours of Westminster Abbey, Churchill’s War Room, the eye-catching London Eye, and ad nauseam iPhone pictures of myself at the Elizabeth Tower (formerly known as ‘Big Ben’), it was time to acquaint my taste buds with some famed pub Fish and Chips. But to my delight, I discovered that Latino cuisine is quickly becoming an appetizing option to British fare. Two that particularly stand out are Mexican cuisine establishments, Lupita and Benitos Hat. Lupita’s specializes in tacos and Benito’s Hat in burritos. Both are delicious and organically fresh and would rival the best Chipotle in the USA. Some other tapas restaurants from Spain also are tough not to enjoy.
I later depart to my first event of the week: Women’s Gymnastics Medley. With ticket in hand and U.S. colors abounding on my attire, I enter North Greenwich Arena surrounded by cheers of “USA” as Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross and Aly Raisman defeat Russia in a dramatic head to head of the best gymnasts the world has to offer. One thing that was absolutely curious to me was that the athletes would never watch their opponents performances. I surmise they don’t want to know how good or bad the others are. Even though all the athletes are friendly and respectful, it is very competitive.
Full of cheer and drenched in patriotism after witnessing the Fab Five conquer gold, my next day was met with the biggest Latin rock star on the planet in my row. “Labios compartidos, labios dividos mi amor” is the song that came to mind when I chatted with Fher Olvera, lead singer from Mexico’s band Maná. He was cheering loudly at the second Olympic event I attended: Men and Women’s Swimming. Tough not to recognize the long brown hair curls and the raspy voice, Fher and I chatted about his shocking first time at the Olympics, “This is my first Olympics and it’s amazing! I’m rooting for all the Latinos. As soon as I see a Latino athlete, I’m cheering for them whether they’re Brazilian, Colombian, Venezuelan or Caribbean! It doesn’t matter,” said Fher chuckling.
As I hear his words, I realize the same goes for me. As American as I am, I’m also a proud Hispanic that revels with youthful joy and unwavering pride when one of my own competes hard and wins a medal. It is the beauty of being a Hispanic American, bicultural, bilingual. Chances are, you always have someone to root for.
JACK RICO, NBC LATINO contributor and founder of showbizcafe.com.