To a soundtrack of "Si se puede!" from the stands, Monica Puig (ranked 34th in the world) won Puerto Rico's first gold medal in any sport in Olympic history, upsetting Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in the women's tennis singles final Saturday at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Puerto Rico, a territory of the U.S., has been sending athletes to the Summer Games since 1948 and has won medals before, but never gold and never by a woman.
This incredible upset is so special to Puerto Ricans not only because it is their 1st gold medal, but because Puig is an inspiration to all men and women, displaying not only perseverance and hard work, but the love she has for her people no matter the small island's situation. She inspires Puerto Ricans young and old to look past the hardships, and as a borícua myself, it's reconnected me to my heritage after not having visited the small island in a few years.
Puerto Rico has been in the news lately due to its dire financial situation, but on Saturday, borícuas in the island and around the world were cheering with pride. Puig, 22, is also the first woman representing Puerto Rico to earn a medal of any color at an Olympics, and when she finished a tense closing game she dropped her racket and went over to collect a flag she paraded across the court. “When I’m playing in the WTA, it’s more like I’m playing for myself—my job, let’s say,” Puig told the AP this week. “Here, it’s not really my job. It’s for my country, and I think nothing in the world can compare to that.” Puig has beat all the odds to work her way into even qualifying for the Olympics, as she started ranked 92nd in the world at the beginning of the year. Her incredible progress to the 3rd round of the French Open allowed her to qualify despite all the competition and stress everyone was facing to be able to compete at the Olympics.
"I just want to tell them this is for them," said an emotional Puig as she was interviewed after her win. "They're going through some tough times and they needed this and I needed this," she said, adding, "I love where I come from." Puig knows all about the troubles, from the economy to the Zika virus, that are currently plaguing Puerto Rico, along with their waning population. She understood what an Olympic medal, especially a gold medal, would mean. Standing there, with her eyes filled with the tears of a champion, she gave Puerto Rico much more than the win of an unseeded tennis player at the Rio Olympics. She gave Puerto Ricans their spirit back. She's shown that having heart and is stronger than anything.
You gave us hope for the future and a place on the world stage we can be proud of as the sounds of the Puerto Rican anthem, La Borinqueña, were heard around the world.