From wowing us with athletic excellence, to making us laugh with passionate sideline antics, to inspiring us through activism, here were some moments that defined 2014 in Latino sports.
A Poem by James Rodriguez
When we look back on the 2014 World Cup a decade from now, it will probably be remembered as the year 22-year-old Colombian genius James Rodríguez announced his arrival as a soccer star.
Rodríguez’ debut in the World tournament was a poem. He controlled a header on his chest 25 yards from goal, let the ball drop, and then, with two furious Uruguayan players closing in, unleashed an unstoppable left-foot volley that crashed against the crossbar before bouncing down and into the net.
The outrageous volley put his side up 1-0 against Uruguay, and was just the first of Rodríguez’ six goals in the 2014 World Cup. He won the Golden Boot for finishing as the top scorer.
Soccer skills aside, the Real Madrid player schooled us in some moves we can use off the field – he was also the World Cup’s best dance teacher:
The flamboyant expressions of Miguel Herrera
El Tri’s euphoria at this year’s World Cup was captured best by the flamboyant expressions and gesticulations of Mexico’s coach Miguel Herrera aka El Piojo.
The child-like joy shown by Herrera in every Mexican goal was more entertaining than anything Germany´s players produced on the pitch – it garnered him global attention, and the memes it generated gave us GIFs to treasure long after the cup was over.
But beyond being hilarious, El Piojo did a truly amazing coaching job, guiding Mexico through a World Cup group that was trickier than most probably appreciated, with triumphs against Cameroon and Croatia and a tie with local Brazil.
El Tri were better than Holland for most of the round of 16 game and even if it was the Mexicans who exited Brazil early, their verve and plucky performance was unthinkable just a year before.
After these Herrera moments, Mexican fans were able to really see themselves in their coach – not always a winner but always ecstatic for the next game.
Messi's Latest Milestone
2014 wasn’t necessarily Lionel Messi’s best soccer year; Argentina lost the World Cup final, he’s probably not going to win the Golden Ball, and besides, Barcelona bypasses its best.
But who cares! Messi is the best soccer player in the world.
The Argentinean forward’s best moment this year came when he set a Champions League scoring record of 74 goals after netting a hat-trick on November 19th, a 4-0 Group F win at APOEL Nicosia.
It was a new consecutive record for Messi; the Argentinean captain surpassed the record of 71 he jointly held with NY Cosmos striker Raul when he put his side ahead by 2-0 shortly before halftime.
Messi’s 74 Champions League goals came in 91 appearances, while Raul needed 142 playing for Real Madrid and Schalke 04 to arrive at his 71 goals.
Messi’s achievement is the latest milestone in a stellar career and came three days after he broke the six decade-old La Liga scoring record with a hat-trick in Barca’s 5-1 home win over Sevilla.
The 27-year-old added two more goals in the second half to complete his 31st career treble, his fifth in Europe’s elite club competition, and the first in which he has scored all three with his less-favored right foot.
2014 may not have been Messi’s best year, but let’s face it – we are living in a Messi Era.
A New Beginning for Cuban Athletes
It’s hard to imagine that stories like that of Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson will happen again after this year.
The olympic champion in 1972, 1976 and 1980, who turned down millions of dollars to fight Muhammad Ali, became a powerful symbol of loyalty to Cuba’s revolution.
The fight with Ali would have been a fantasy clash between the two greatest heavyweights of their generation, but the Cuban regime had banned professional sport as corrupting.
With Obama’s announcement weeks ago that diplomatic ties between U.S and Cuba will be restored, it’s difficult to imagine this scenario repeating itself – not to mention the many stories of dangerous defections that athletes have undertaken to play in the U.S.
The new implications for the sports world are obvious, and not just for Cuban boxers; Major League Baseball fans and owners are rubbing their hands at the prospect that the thaw between Washington and Havana will be reflected in a marked increase in the number of Cuban players in the majors.
While it’s too soon to know where the chips will fall, an influx of talent could soon be headed to American professional leagues. Some analysts speculate that if there is a reduction of travel restrictions for Cuban citizens, there could likely be as many Cuban players as there are Dominicans in the National Pastime.
The embargo won’t be lifted anytime in the immediate future. That was made clear when Obama said in his speech that such a change in legislation would require assistance from Congress, meaning political haranguing.
The important thing is that the first step has been taken, and significant thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba is a huge moment for Latino sports.
Ginóbili Earns Fourth NBA Ring With the Spurs
36 year-old Emanuel Ginóbili won his fourth NBA ring as a key player for the San Antonio Spurs, the team that delivered a decisive end to LeBron James’ two-year reign atop the basketball world by beating the Miami Heat 104-87 to win the the series last June.
For us, the true symbol of San Antonio’s greatness is none other than the Argentinean Manu Ginobili; he is the outlier among outliers of his team, like Tim Duncan or Tony Parker.
In his last season, Manu was coming off the bench despite being one of the two or three best and most productive players on the team for nearly his entire 12-year NBA career.
He was the silent hero of San Antonio. He’s started more than 50 games just three times in 12 years. He’s averaged over 30 minutes per game only twice, with a career high of 31.1 way back in 2008.
He’s never made more than $14 million in any season of his career, significantly less than the 23.5 million maximum of Kobe Bryant. He’s never been the team’s leading scorer or assist man, despite possessing the most diverse offensive skill set on the roster.
Yet despite all that, he’s the soul of the team. He’s so far ahead of the pack because he reinvented the concept of the bench player in the NBA’s Modern Era. Without Manu, the Spurs would probably have never snatched the championship rings right off the Heat’s fingers.
Colombia’s Mariana Pajón Takes the Gold at BMX World Championships
Gabriel García Márquez once wrote, “man invented the bicycle when he put pedals to his own balance.”
Colombian cyclist Mariana Pajón is revolutionizing this concept in BMX. She not only put pedals to her own balance, she also put in adrenaline and intelligence, winning herself first place at the BMX women’s final in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, last summer.
The 22-year-old can now count 16 gold medals in her BMX career thus far, converting her into a World Champion, followed by United States’ Alise Post and Netherland’s Laura Smulders in her 16-title career.
As Colombia’s Olympic gold-medal-winning cyclist, Pajón used the press conference to express what many Colombian fans felt: that they were robbed in the 2014 World Cup match against Brazil when the referee nullified a goal from Mario Yepes – one which would have sent the game into penalty kicks in the quarter finals.
“Y era gol de Yepes” Pajón said.
The Detroit Tigers Send a Message of Support to Venezuela
One of the most epic moments in Latino sports this year may have been during February’s massive anti-government protests in Venezuela, when many Venezuelan MLB players sent messages of support to their country.
The first to do so were the Detroit Tigers, with stellars like Miguel Cabrera, Hernan Perez and Coach Omar Vizquel releasing statements of support amidst worry for their families’ safety.
Next, messages came from San Francisco Giants players and more. After all, among foreign countries producing big league players, Venezuela is second only to the Dominican Republic.
Venezuela’s heightened turbulence this year came in February amid protests against Maduro, who took over the country’s leadership after the death of Hugo Chavez and blamed opposition politicians for sparking the unrest.
The Venezuelan people were and are angry about a sinking economy, blossoming crime rates and shortages of food, products and services. Protesters, largely students, took to the streets, and the government cracked down, sending the National Guard armed with bullets and tear gas into neighborhoods.
It was a historic moment for Latino sports, when the fame and popularity of athletes served to amplify the voice of the people against the abuses of the authorities.
The Luis Suárez Bite
This may not have been a high point of the year in sports, but Luis Suárez biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during the 2014 World Cup was definitely an unforgettable moment.
Uruguay defeated Italy, 1-0, in World Cup action, eliminating the perennial European power and advancing to knockout play. But the big story was actually Luis Suárez, who bit Chiellini late in the match, in a repeat of prior offenses in the Premier League.
We all remember the photos of Chiellini showing the referee the bite marks on his left shoulder, as well as the images of Suárez holding his teeth in apparent pain after the play.
It resulted in a four month suspension for Suárez, and an even longer debate about him in the public eye.
Few soccer players in the world are as polarizing as Uruguay´s striker, nor as mysterious. He’s a phenomenal player, but what lurks beneath his surface is unclear.
The David Ortiz Selfie
We’ll probably remember 2014 as the Year of the Selfie. In sports, the most famous was that of Dominican baseball player David Ortiz with President Barack Obama.
“Big Papi” took the famous shot with Obama during a Red Sox visit to the White House in April. Ortiz’s tweet with the image was retweeted more than 42,000 times.
But if the Oscars’ selfie was a complete Samsung stunt, this was the same. The Korean company revealed its marketing deal with Ortiz after the slugger snapped the photo, causing a bit of a controversy. Using the president for commercial purposes is a no-go, and although Samsung and Ortiz insisted the Obama selfie was completely spontaneous, White House lawyers had conversations with Samsung following the stunt, and press secretary Jay Carney released a statement about it.
The Petite Mexican Star
If an athlete these days makes her sport look easy, it’s Mexican racquetball player Paola Longoria.
Longoria accumulated three undefeated seasons, earning 37 titles in a row, and dominating the last three seasons by winning 12 dates, including Grand Slam category tournaments like the U.S. Open. She matched the 137 wins of Canadian Kane Waselenchuk, who, until that time, held the maximum record in the sport.
Her streak ended this October, when Longoria lost for the first time in three years, setting a new record of 154 wins in the process.
The petite Mexican star has spent the better part of six years on a dominant rise to the No. 1 ranking for the international Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour, and she had plenty to celebrate in 2014.