Panama’s Top 10 Athletes of All Time
Panama’s Top 10 Athletes of All Time
Panamá has a rich sports history. Baseball players, boxers, jockeys and soccer players are icons of a nation that presently seems to be filled with enthusiasm for baseball and soccer, the most practiced sports in the country. When taking a closer look at the statistics, we see that two Panamanian athletes have climbed to the Olympic podium: Irving Saladino, triple jump champion in Beijing 2008 and sprinter Lloyd Labeach, with two bronze medals in London 1948. Moreover, five athletes have become world champions in their respective sports. Saladino and Labeach have written their names among the immortals of sports in Panama; but, beyond them, which of them would make up the list of Panama's top 10 athletes of all time? Panamericanworld proposes just such a list of these sport legends from the Isthmus.
Rod Carew, An Unstoppable Hitter
Rod Carew is described as one of the best batters in the history of MLB. His seven titles took him up to the Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, back in 1991. So far, he is the only Panamanian player there, although he is likely to have some company soon, since nobody has doubts about Mariano Rivera’s, the best closer of all time, joining the Temple of baseball immortals. Carew had his first great MLB season in 1967, when he was chosen Rookie of the Year by the American League and, ten years later, he got the highest title: Most Valuable Player in the same League, by finishing with .388, the second highest average in the history of MLB. The Panamanian player’s average was higher than 300 throughout 15 seasons in a row and he played in 18 All Star Games.
Mariano Rivera, The Eternal Fear of “Enter Sandman”
Every time Mariano Rivera walked out of the Yankee Stadium’s warm-up area his rivals had two things for sure: the speakers delivered the iconic “Enter Sandman” song, by Metallica band, and they faced the best closer in history, a man with the talent to save 652 games throughout his 19-year-long career, always wearing the New York Yankees uniform. Rivera was born in Panama City and made his debut in MLB in 1995, but it was in 1997 when he got the official closer position in the most famous professional team in the United States. With the Yankees, Rivera won five World Series rings (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009) and participated in 13 All Star Games. During his 19 seasons in MLB he won 82 games, finished with effectiveness average of barely 2,21 and his post-season performance was great: he saved 42 games and his ERA was 0.70, both numbers were recognized as records in MLB. Rivera played his last game in September 2013. In 2018, when his name will be on the table to enter Cooperstown, this unforgettable baseball player is likely to be given a unanimous vote and he will join Carew as the only Panamanian players in the hall of baseball immortals.
Lloyd Labeach, The Only Athlete Holding Two Olympic Medals
This sprinter was the first Panamanian athlete to climb to the Olympic podium. In London Games, back in 1948, he conquered the bronze medal in 100-200 meter dash. Labeach’s parents were Jamaican citizens that migrated to Panama and joined the thousands of workers that built the Canal. Lloyd was born in 1922 and, at the age of 24, he was granted a scholarship to study at Wisconsin’s University, in the United States, although he later moved to the Californian University, in Los Angeles. He got his degree in 1948 and represented Panama in the Olympic Games. His two medals were described as deeds by the Panamanian government, so he was given the “Vasco Nuñez de Balboa” Order. Labeach retired in 1957 and lived in Nigeria, where he lived until the early 1990s, when he decided to move to the United States. The Panamanian National Sports Institute gave him the “Manuel Roy” Sports Merit medal, thus paying tribute to his two Olympic medals.
Irving Saladino, A One-and-Only Jumper
This great long jumper, who was born in Colon City in 1983, is the only Panamanian athlete that has obtained an Olympic title, since he jumped to victory in Beijing Games by scoring 8.34 meters. Saladino went to that edition of the Games as the main favorite because of his previous results, which helped him stay on top of this sport for five years. His list of outstanding outcomes includes a silver medal won in Moscow Indoor World Championship, back in 2006, with a 8.29 meter-long jump; he later stood out in Rio de Janeiro Pan American Games, 2007, with 8.28 meters. A year before the Chinese Olympic edition, the Panamanian jumper became world champion in Osaka, with 8.57 meters. After Beijing, Saladino’s best result came during the South American Games, organized in Santiago de Chile, 2014.
Eileen Marie Coparropa, The Speed Queen at The Swimming Pool
This swimmer has been labeled as the most famous athlete in the history of Panama. She was even described as the “speed queen” in Central American and the Caribbean because she set 11 regional records within a seven-year period, in 50-100 meters free style. In three Olympic editions (Atlanta 1996, Sidney 2000 and Athens 2004), Coparropa was given the honor to carry Panama’s flag during the opening ceremony. For four years in a row, 1996-2000, she was handpicked as the best athlete of Panama. She got two gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Games, Maracaibo, 1998. Moreover, she was the first Panamanian athlete to be on the podium in Pan Am Games, by finishing in the second position, 50 meters free style, in Winnipeg, 1999. Four year later, during the Pan American Games hosted by Santo Domingo, Coparropa finished third in the same distance.
Roberto “Stone Hand” Duran, KO Fists
This amazing boxer is still described as the best lightweight of all time. He had a powerful punch, the origin of his pen name “Mano de Piedra (Stone Hand)” and he was strong enough to fight throughout 33 years! (1968-2001). These elements turned him into the second fighter to compete during five decades, just like another great pugilist, Jack Johnson. Duran won the world title in four different weights. He conquered his first crown in 1972, by defeating lightweight Ken Buchanan. The Panamanian boxer held the crown for six years, he defended it 12 times and no rival could take him down. He later stood out in welterweights, with excellent fights against brilliant Ray Leonard. Both boxers had their first duel in 1980, at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and the Panamanian fighter prevailed over Leonard, after 15 rounds; although some months later, in New Orleans, the U.S. boxer took his revenge. They met again nine years later and Leonard was victorious. Duran’s figures on the ring were spectacular: he had 119 fights and won 103, 70 of which were finished by a KO. He has joined an exclusive group of boxers that have delivered over 50 KOs. According to prestigious The Ring magazine, “Mano de Piedra” is ranked 28th among the main hitters in history.
Julio Cesar “Dely” Valdes, The Best Panamanian Athlete in the 20th Century
He has been the best Panamanian soccer player of all time. His career began with Panamanian Atlético Colón team, but he made headlines when playing for Uruguay’s National Team, where he won the local title, in 1992. Dely later moved to Europe and wore the uniforms of four clubs. He won two championships in Europe: Cup Winners Cup with PSG, in 1996, and Intertoto Cup with Malaga team, in 2002. Afterwards, “Dely” Valdes returned to Uruguay’s National Team, but he only spent a year there and continued his career with the Arabe Unido Club, in Panama, where he retired in 2006. Throughout his career, “Dely” scored over 200 goals, most of them with the National (110). After his retirement, Valdes was still connected to the soccer world, as technical director. In 2010, he led the Panamanian national team. The aim was set on qualifying to Brazil World Cup, in 2014. The team made it to the final of Concacaf, but it finished fifth and “Dely” was fired.
Laffit Pincay Jr., A Horse Racing Legend
This great jockey is a legend in the horse-racing realm, who got over 9,500 wins throughout his successful career. He began riding horses in Panama and at the age of 20, in 1966, he was sponsored by important businesspeople that talked him into competing in the United States. Pincay Jr. was included in the Hall of Fame in 1975 and, among his main achievements, we can mention 4 races in the Triple Crown: Beltmont Stakes, 1982-1983, riding Conquistador Cielo and Caveat respectively, and, in 1984, he won the Kentucky Derby, third time in Beltmont, on Swale.
Ismael Laguna, Short but Intense Life on the Ring
This great fighter didn’t spend much time on the ring, since he retired at the age of 28, but in that short time he won two world titles. He got his first crown in April 1965, with 135 pounds, by defeating Puerto Rican Carlos Ortiz. He later lost the crown against Ortiz. Laguna spent five years training and conquered the world belt by giving KO to Armando “Mando” Ramos. Laguna joined the Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota, in June 2001.
Teofilo “Panama Al Brown”, Lights and Shadows of a Champion
The Top 10 in Panama’s sports history also includes boxer Teofilo “Panama Al Brown”, recognized as the first Latin American boxer to win a professional world title, since he defeated Spanish Vidal Gregorio in June 1929. The Panamanian champion took down eleven rivals that tried to get his crown in different European cities, until it was taken away by Spanish Baltasar Sangchilli, in 1935, Valencia. Throughout his career, “Panama Al Brown” had 156 fights, won 120 and delivered 58 KOs, with only 15 defeats. This fighter had a tragic end, as he passed away in New York, 1951, and he was poor. Years later, his mortal remains were taken back to Panama. In 1992, “Panama Al Brown” was recognized in the Hall of Fame.