Yankiel Rivera will be the sole hope of Puerto Rican boxing at Tokyo 2020. His aim? To put this nation with a rich Olympic history back on the road to glory in Japan.
The hopes of a return to the glory days of Puerto Rican boxing hang on the shoulders of Yankiel Rivera, the only boxer from his country to have qualified for Tokyo 2020 through his ranking.
As an 18-year-old, Rivera missed out on the Rio 2016 Olympics. Now he is aiming to join an illustrious list of Puerto Rican Olympians, most of whom have been boxers.
“Since I was little, since I started to take this sport more seriously, I set that goal. To make it to the Olympics is the greatest in sport,” he told El Vocero.
“It is a source of pride when someone holds up the flag."
But, what does it mean for Rivera to go to Tokyo?
Right now, the only chance of Puerto Rico ending its 25-year Olympic boxing medal drought lies in the gloves of Rivera.
“We have the skills required to win that medal. The coaches and the president (of the national federation, Jose Laureano) trust me, so there is hope to get a medal,” the Lima 2019 Pan American Games’ bronze medallist told El Nuevo Día.
When he competes in the flyweight division at Tokyo 2020, Rivera will be following in the footsteps of Jeyvier Cintron, who competed in the boxing tournaments of London 2012 and Rio 2016. However, if he wins a medal, he will be the first Puerto Rican to do so since the bronze of Daniel Santos at Atlanta 1996.
Until Santos, all of Puerto Rico's medals were won in the ring. But since then, this proud nation has not stepped onto an Olympic boxing podium.
2007 Getty Images
At Sydney 2000, Ivan Calderon (light-flyweight), Carlos Valcarcel (flyweight), Orlando Cruz (bantamweight), Miguel Cotto - who went on to win professional world titles in four weight classes - (light-welterweight) and Ruben Fuchu (welterweight) competed. They all failed to make the podium.
Four years later in Athens, the best-placed boxers were Alex de Jesus (lightweight) and Victor Bisbal (super heavyweight), who finished ninth. Joseph Serrano, Juan Manuel Lopez and Carlos Velazquez all finished 17th.
McWilliams Arroyo (Beijing 2008), Felix Verdejo and Jeyvier Cintron (both London 2012) have been the boxers who have come closest to podium finishes since Athens.
A year after being crowned champion at the Rio 2007 Pan American Games, Arroyo finished fifth, just one step short of a medal (two bronzes are on offer) in the flyweight division.
At those same Games, Carlos Negron and Jose Pedraza also made it to the top 10, finishing ninth in light-heavyweight and lightweight, respectively.
Verdejo and Cintron both placed fifth in London, with Cintron only able to finish 17th as Puerto Rico’s only boxer in Rio.
Returning to glory
Rivera represents a chance for Puerto Rico to return to their past boxing glories. It is a sport in which the nation has won six of its nine Olympic medals.
Puerto Rico’s Olympic boxing success began in the first year they participated at the Games. At London 1948, Juan Evangelista Venegas won their first-ever Olympic medal by taking bronze in the bantamweight division.
All of the next ones were also bronze, except for Luis Francisco Ortiz’s silver at Los Angeles 1984. They included Orlando Maldonado (Montreal 1976), Aristides Gonzalez (Los Angeles 1984) and Anibal Acevedo (Barcelona 1992).
Three other medals were obtained after Santos but none of them came in the boxing ring: wrestler Jaime Espinal (silver at London 2012), hurdler Javier Culson (bronze at London 2012) and tennis player Monica Puig (gold at Rio 2016).
Carrying the hope of history in his gloves, Yankiel Rivera has ambitious plans for Tokyo 2020 and beyond. “Give it all at the Olympics and bring a medal to Puerto Rico, which is needed. Then become world champion in professional boxing.”