After Panhandling His Way to the Rio Olympics, Misael Rodríguez Secures Mexico Its First Medal

Lead Photo: Photo: Yves Herman for Reuters
Photo: Yves Herman for Reuters
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Mexican sports fans can now rest easy – the proud nation of 120 million has finally secured its first Olympic medal at Rio 2016. Misael “El Chino” Rodríguez, a 22-year-old boxer from Chihuahua, will be fighting in the middleweight semi-finals with a guaranteed bronze medal and a shot at the gold.

The news comes as a tremendous relief to a delegation living through an Olympics that one pundit dubbed “the worst sporting failure in Mexican history” – though even Rodriguez’s win has emerged as another chapter in the ongoing national conversation surrounding the country’s poor performance in Rio.

Late last year, Rodríguez joined other Olympic hopefuls from the Mexican Boxing Federation to literally beg for money on the streets and busses of Mexico City to help finance their trip to the Olympic qualifiers in Qatar. In light of Rodríguez’s impressive showing at this year’s games, the touching story has recently resurfaced as both an example of Rodríguez’s hard work and a condemnation of Mexico’s athletic commission, CONADE.

Indeed, before Rodríguez took to the streets last year, the CONADE’s new director Alfredo Castillo had accused the Mexican Boxing Federation of corruption and cut off all funding from the organization. Along with several other sports federations caught up in the anti-corruption sweep, Mexico’s amateur boxers were left to pay their own way through international events and even purchase their own uniforms.

Rodríguez himself had to borrow his Olympic uniform for the Rio Games and make the necessary alterations by hand, joining other Mexican Olympians like weightlifter Bredny Roque, who had to tape over brand logos on his singlet when he wasn’t provided with the official tricolor.

But many observers have clarified that the blame isn’t entirely on the shoulders of the CONADE, pointing to a dirty war between disgraced sports federations and the ineffectual administration of Castillo. Some have even suggested that the Boxing Federation has been using its athletes as pawns, with publicity stunts like the famous panhandling incident intended to turn the country against Castillo and the CONADE.

While both organizations seem to have their fair share of mismanagement and shady practices, Mexico is on track to have one of their lowest ever Olympic medal counts despite fielding the country’s largest delegation since the 1972 Munich Games. As for Rodríguez, he has brought Mexican boxing its first medal in 16 years, and given his country a reason to smile as Rio 2016 enters its final stretch.