Two Latinos dominated the 400-meter hurdles in London on Monday: Dominican hurdler Felix Sanchez did it again. Puerto Rican hurdler Javier Culson got himself a place in Puerto Rican history.
It was a very emotive scene as the athletes were presented their medals. Culson, the bronze medalist, got his medal first. The medals were presented by Richard Carrion, the Puerto Rican who is the head of Banco Popular and an executive board member of the International Olympic Committee.
“I told you I was going to put it on you,” Carrion told Culson as he put on the medal.
But the most emotive part of the ceremony came when Sanchez took his place at the center, sobbing even before his name had been called, and all the way through the Dominican anthem.
These are the first medals for both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico during these games, finally putting the Caribbean countries on the medal count. For the Dominican Republic, Sanchez’s gold is their fifth medal overall. Meanwhile, this is Puerto Rico’s seventh medal in Olympic history, its first medal ever outside of boxing, and the first medal the country gets since the Atlanta Games in 1996.
Coincidentally, Puerto Rico won its first olympic medal the first time it participated — at the 1948 London Olympics.
This time, 34-year-old Sanchez took first place in the 400-meter hurdles now for the second time, after doing it first in Athens at the 2004 Olympic Games. On Monday, Sanchez zoomed past the lead hurdlers in the home stretch. He finished with a time of 47.63 seconds, which is his seasonal best and makes him the world’s fastest man in the 400-meter hurdles at the moment.
Many were expecting Culson, the man who was Puerto Rico’s best chance at a medal these Games, to win the race. The athlete had been the fastest man in this event this year, with a time of 47.78 seconds.
Both Culson and Sanchez had taken the lead in their heats during the qualifying and the semifinal rounds, and it was clear the race would be close. American Michael Tinsley took the silver with his personal best, 47.91 seconds.
While this was Culson’s only event, Sanchez now goes on to compete in the men’s 4 x 400 meters relay on Thursday.
Sanchez, who was born in New York City but raised in San Diego, California, represented the Dominican Republic in the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008. This was Culson’s second time at the Olympics. Culson didn’t make it past the semifinals in Beijing, and Sanchez didn’t make it past the first round.
Four years later, it seems both athletes came back with a vengeance.