Meet The Latin American Olympians Who Carried Their Country’s Flag

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The spectacle that is the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony is punctuated by the Parade of Nations, in which each country’s athletes – led by one flag bearer – make their way around the stadium. Carrying the flag is considered a great honor, and the selection process varies by country. Some allow their citizens to vote for who they’d like to see waving that flag, while others are picked by the athletes themselves or the Olympics committee of the country. Either way, it’s sweet to see the athletes’ excitement.

With 207 countries competing, the opening ceremonies are a long procession, and since broadcasts often give limited screen time to our countries, you may easily miss them. That’s why we’ve put together this guide, so you can meet your flag bearer and your delegation, and some brief information on your country’s history at the Olympics.

To read even more coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, click here



Flag bearer: Luis Scola
Sport/Event: Basketball
2016 Team: 213 athletes in 25 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1900
Olympic medal count: 70

With Argentina’s golden generation just about coming to an end, Luis Scola didn’t think he’d make it back to another Olympics. Just two years ago, he almost quit. But here he is again, leading not only the basketball team, but also the rest of his country. This is the first time Scola holds the flag – an honor bestowed onto his teammate Manu Ginobili in 2008.

Going into his fourth Olympics, Scola already has two medals under his belt – and a solid NBA career – so for him, it’s about the ride. “I had the chance to play four Olympics, to play 10 years in the NBA, to carry the flag for my country, win an Olympic gold medal,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “I mean, different things that happened along those days that I couldn’t even dream of those because it would be too wild to dream. So it’s been quite a journey, it’s been quite a ride.”



Flag bearer: Ángela Castro
Sport/Event: 20 km walk
2016 Team: 12 athletes in 5 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1936
Olympic medal count: 0

Speed walker Ángela Castro has the honor of waving the Bolivian flag at the 2016 Olympics. On Twitter, President Evo Morales said that it’s an historic year for Bolivia, because it’s the first time the competitors qualify based on their merits. According to teleSUR, Morales has offered thousands of dollars to anyone who brings Bolivia its first (or second, third, etc) medal home.

Ángela Castro – who is participating in one of the most endlessly entertaining sports – won her first international title in April. As a child, it’s unlikely that she believed she’d ever reach this moment. “As a baby, doctors said I had issues with my hips and they thought that I’d never be able to participate in sports,” she told La Razón. “That’s why, a few years ago, my mom cried the first time she saw me compete, so we showed doubters that through hard work, one can reach their goals. Nothing’s impossible.”



Flag bearer: Érika Olivera
Sport/Event: Marathon
2016 Team: 42 athletes in 16 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1896
Olympic medal count: 13

The people of Chile picked marathon-runner Érika Olivera as its abanderada, so she shot a sweet, short video thanking the people of her country for backing her.

At 40 years old, this is her fifth and final appearance at the Games. Regardless of her performance, she’s a hero. A couple days after becoming her country’s Flag bearer, she opened up about being abused by her stepfather. The same year, she told her mother – who didn’t believe her – she began running.



Flag bearer: Yuri Alvear
Sport/Event: Judo
2016 Team: 148 athletes in 23 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1932
Olympic medal count: 19

Picking a Flag bearer isn’t always without controversy. In Colombia, Claro asked citizens to pick the competitor through a poll. While gymnast Jossimar Calvo reportedly received more votes, Caterine Ibargüen – as a DirecTV-sponsored athlete – questioned the poll, according to Semana. The Federación Colombiana de Gimnasia also felt iffy about him participating in the opening ceremonies since he’d start competing August 6. Yuri Alvear ended up taking over.

Alvear won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics. Ahead of the Olympics, she penned a letter about how her life had changed. “That night, in the hotel room, I felt so much happiness,” she wrote. “I looked at the medal, and I couldn’t believe that me, Yuri Alvear, the one who was raised in the streets of Jamundí, medalled at the 2012 London Olympics.” Now, she says she is the pride of not just her family, but also her family.


Costa Rica

Flag Bearer: Nery Brenes
Sport/Event: 200 m, 400 m
2016 Team: 10 athletes in 6 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1936
Olympic medal count: 4

This is sprinter Nery Brenes’ third time at the Olympics, and his first time holding his country’s flag. “It’s so exciting,” he said, according to Terra. “I promise to carry this flag with honor, as I always do in my heart.”

In an interview with La Nación, Brenes’ coach recently said the athlete is in the best shape of his life. At 20.43 seconds, his qualifying 200-meter dash run broke a record in Costa Rica, though the 400-meter run is his prefered event.



Flag bearer: Mijaín López
Sport/Event: Wrestling
2016 Team: 120 athletes in 18 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1900
Olympic medal count: 209

Legend has it that if you want to be the flag bearer for Cuba at the Olympics, you have to wrestle Mijaín López for it. You’d be wise not to try that.

Lopez is a monster of a wrestler who’s won Olympic gold in the 120 kg weight class two straight times. At World Championships, he’s won five golds and three silvers.


Dominican Republic

Flag bearer: Luguelín Santos
Sport/Event: 400 m, 4 x 400 m relay
2016 Team: 29 athletes in 11 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1964
Olympic medal count: 6

Luguelín Santos represented the Dominican Republic well in London, winning a silver medal in the 400 meters at just 18 years old. With golds at the Youth Olympics, Pan American Games, and World Junior championships, it’s clear that he represents the best chance of the Dominican Republic getting a gold medal in its fourth straight Olympics. He should be the face of his country’s track and field program for many years, taking the torch from the legendary Félix Sánchez.


El Salvador

Flag bearer: Lilian Castro
Sport/Event: 10 m air pistol
2016 Team: 8 athletes in 6 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1968
Olympic medal count: 0

Lilian Castro gave birth to a baby girl in June. She resumed training a week later, according to El Pais. Now two months later, Castro will be shooting for El Salvador at the Olympics and carrying her nation’s flag in the opening ceremony.

When she’s not shooting, Castro spends her time making chocolate for a company she started.



Flag bearer: Estefania García
Sport/Event: Judo
2016 Team: 38 athletes in 13 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1924
Olympic medal count: 2

Andres Chocho was first named the flag bearer, but judoka Estefanía García got her chance to shine. She is the first Ecuadorian woman to win the Pan American Games. She competed in 2012.



Flag bearer: Ana Sofía Gómez
Sport/Event: Gymnastics
Team: 21 athletes in 10 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1952
Olympic medal count: 1

No one was happier at the Olympics than Ana Sofía Gómez. The 20-year-old first got into a gymnastics because she was an overactive child. It wasn’t always easy to do the sport she loved, and along the way, she even had some professors tell her that gymnastics would take her nowhere. Now she’s making her second Olympic appearance.



Flag bearer: Rolando Palacios
Sport/Event: 100 m
2016 Team: 26 athletes in 8 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1968
Olympic medal count: 0

Honduras will be led at the Opening Ceremony by Rolando Palacios. The 29-year-old sprinter has racked up medals in Central American competitions and will be competing in his second Olympic games. We would have more hope for him if we weren’t living in the era of Usain Bolt (may it never end), but his personal best time of 10.22 in the 100 meters is very impressive.



Flag bearer: Daniela Campuzano
Sport/Event: cross-country
2016 Team: 125 athletes in 26 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1900
Olympic medal count: 62

As the first Mexican mountain biker to compete at the Olympics, it surprised Daniela Campuzano to find out she had been selected to carry Mexico’s flag. Since the sport isn’t very well known there, she’s taking the opportunity to introduce Mexicans to mountain biking. “It’s a great opportunity to get people to know this sport, because few know of it,” she said. Plus, this will create opportunities for the cyclists that come after me.”



Flag bearer: Rafael Lacayo
Sport/Event: 10 m air pistol
2016 Team: 6 athletes in 4 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1968
Olympic medal count: 0

Rafael Lacayo, a 17-year-old shooter, will be one of the youngest flag bearers at the Olympics (along with Uruguay.) Lacayo qualified for the Olympics through his performance at the Pan American Games in Toronto last year, and apparently he didn’t even realize he’d met the necessary score for a spot in Rio, because he was surprised to get the news that he qualified.

Lacayo first took up the sport when his school looked for students who could participate in the sport on behalf of the Nicaraguan federation, and it didn’t take long before he got to the world’s biggest stage. “I can’t believe that after two and a half years of training in this sport I’ll be representing my country at the Olympic Games,” he said.



Flag bearer: Alonso Edward
Sport/Event: 200 m
2016 Team: 10 athletes in 7 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1928
Olympic medal count: 3

Though his one trip to the Olympics in 2012 ended with a disqualification, Alonso Edward’s track record hints at a potential to bring home Panama’s fourth Olympic medal. Or, it would if sprinting weren’t so competitive. Edward has collected nine international gold medals and a silver medal in the 200 meter at the 2009 World Championships. He finished behind only Usain Bolt, and when that happens all you can say is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.



Flag bearer: Julieta Granada
Sport/Event: Golf
2016 Team: 11 athletes in 7 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1968
Olympic medal count: 1

Golf is making its debut at the Olympic games, and Paraguay’s flag bearer is golfer Julieta Granada. The decision was apparently a simple one. “The selection of Julieta Granada was made because she’s the best Paraguayan athlete at the moment,” said the president of Paraguay’s Olympic Committee.

The tournament will also be a chance for her to share quality time with her mom, who has always been Granada’s caddie.



Flag bearer: Francisco Boza
Sport/Event: Trap
2016 Team: 29 athletes in 11 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1900
Olympic medal count: 4

Francisco Boza has been running this trap game at the Olympics since before many of y’all were even born. And by running I mean participating, mostly. Boza competed in his first Olympics in 1980 and then went again every four years until 2004. He won silver in 1984, but has not medaled at the Olympics since then. It’s even more remarkable that he now returns for his eighth Olympics at the age of 51 having not qualified for 12 years. He qualified by winning gold at the Pan American Games in 2015. Boza also carried the flag at Athens in 2004. He remains the secretary general of Peru’s Olympic Committee, so it’s no surprise he got the nod to carry the flag once more.


Puerto Rico

Flag bearer: Jaime Espinal
Sport/Event: -86 kg wrestling
2016 Team: 41 athletes in 15 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1948
Olympic medal count: 8

Daddy Yankee’s favorite Olympian (probably) will be the flag bearer for Puerto Rico. Dominican Republic-born Jaime Espinal is a talented wrestler who won a silver medal in wrestling at the 2012 Olympics. Espinal is also a talented dancer who’s worked with Daddy Yankee and Tego Calderón.

Espinal moved to Puerto Rico at 5 years old, then to Brooklyn with his mother at 15. There, he experienced racism and got into fights every few days until someone pulled a knife on him, and he decided to return to PR. According to El Nuevo Dia, he grew disenchanted with wrestling and took up cheerleading and dance, as one does after combat sports. Eventually a coach talked him back into wrestling, and that decision paid off for him in 2012. After Puerto Rico’s Olympic Committee selected Espinal over other athletes because of his silver medal. “It’s something great and very beautiful. I promise you that I’m going to carry the flag with a lot of pride,” he said.



Flag bearer: Dolores Moreira
Sport/Event: Sailing
2016 Team: 17 athletes in 8 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1924
Olympic medal count: 10

The Uruguayan Olympic Committee chose 17-year-old Moreira in July, making her the country’s youngest ever flag bearer. But she’s a veteran of the flag bearing game, because she had the same responsibility in 2014 at the Summer Youth Olympics in Nanjing and at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, where she went on to earn a silver medal in the Women’s Laser Radial. “It’s something to be proud of, to be able to represent three million people and also to do it at the Maracana, where we have a bit of history,” she said.



Flag bearer: Rubén Limardo
Sport/Event: Fencing
2016 Team: 87 athletes in 20 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1948
Olympic medal count: 12

As one of only two Venezuelan Olympians to have won gold, fencer Rubén Limardo is a natural choice to carry the flag in Rio. But if Venezuela was really real, they’d let him and his younger brother and teammate, Francisco Limardo, carry it together.

Limardo took up the sport at an early age after his uncle learned about the sport in Hungary. At 12 years old, he fractured his right hand and had to switch from using the foil with his right hand to using an épée with his left, according to Meridiano. But he mastered it and now he will be competing in his third Olympics.



Flag bearer: Yane Marques
Sport/Event: Modern pentathlon
2016 Team: 465 athletes in 28 sports
First Olympic appearance: 1920
Olympic medal count: 108

Carrying the flag for any country is a great honor, but being the flag bearer for the host nation is a BFD. This year, that honor goes to pentathlete Yane Marques, making her only the second woman to carry Brazil’s flag at a Parade of Nations. In a public vote, Marques received 49 percent of the vote, topping volleyball player Serginho and sailor Robert Scheidt, according to Globo Esporte.

Marques has brought more attention in Brazil to a sport that few had time for previously. The modern pentathlon is made up of fencing, swimming, horse jumping, and running. She is one of the world’s best at it, with a bronze in London 2012, a silver in the 2013 World Championships, and golds at the 2007 and 2015 Pan American Games.