the 50 Best Latino Athletes
Whether in soccer, basketball, boxing or even the martial arts, these top athletes have made a name for themselves in the sports world and their contributions have changed the game for the better.
By Tony Cantú
Since turning pro in 2000, Acasuso, who is known for his strong serve, has made a name for himself in the tennis world—perhaps most resoundingly with his defeat of top player Felix Mantilla in a major tournament in 2001. In intervening years, he won doubles titles in ’05 and ’06 alongside partner Sebastian Prieto after another such victory with Flavio Saretta in ’04.
Soccer Midfielder, D.C. United
In a soccer landscape filled with superstars, Arguez’s potential burns bright. This Miami native played in more than 20 games for the under-17 Men’s National Team in 2005 before joining United as the 11th overall pick of the first round last year.
David Arvizu, Jr.
Soccer, last played with Chivas USA
Given his outstanding form on the field—first with the New York Red Bulls in ’06 and the Chivas last year—it’s easy to forget this son of Mexican immigrants is virtually a kid, turning 20 in April. But by his count, he’s already a 16-year veteran, according to his Chivas USA website bio: “I started playing when I was 4 years old, in a Mexican league.”
Marco Antonio Barrera
Boxing, WBC Super Featherweight Champion
He calls himself the “baby face assassin,” comparing himself on his website as “ ... the finest featherweight to come out of Mexico since the legendary Salvador Sanchez.” Now in his early 30s, Barrera has lived up to that self-ascribed hype, defeating a who’s who of the boxing world along the way. He has won more than 60 victories as a professional—more than 40 by knockout—and earned world titles in three weight classes.
Golf, 2007 U.S. Open Champion
The first Argentine to win the U.S. Open, he beat Tiger Woods by one stroke. In so doing, Cabrera—nicknamed “El Pato”—did so in dramatic fashion, overcoming bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes and parring on the final 18th hole. He sank a 20-foot birdie at the 8th which went down as one of the longest par-3 holes in majors history. Not since 1967—since Roberto de Vicenzo won the British Open—had an Argentine won a major golf tournament.
Veronica Charlyn Corral
Soccer, Under-20 Women’s National Team
Dubbed a “child prodigy” she continues to astound. With just 11 minutes to spare at last year’s Pan American games, she converted on a penalty kick to provide her team with the winning margin against Team USA. At 14, she became the youngest woman to ever score a goal at the Women’s U20 World Cup. In 2006, at just 15, Charlyn Corral joined the FC Indiana. That’s just one of the many memorable moments this star has given her legions of fans.
Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.
Boxing, Junior Middleweight Division
In the boxing world, there’s arguably no bigger shoes to fill than those of Julio Cesar Chavez—considered by many to be the best fighter from Mexico, a country that produces no shortage of excellent boxers. Undeterred, the legend’s 21-year-old son has made a name for himself in a nascent career that’s already seen 33 victories, 26 of them by knockout.
Miguel Ángel Cotto
Boxing, World Boxing Association
Before going pro in 2001, this boricua represented his homeland in several amateur international competitions, including the 2000 Summer Olympics and 1999 Pan American games. As of press time, he was undefeated at 31-0. He ascended from World Boxing Organization junior welterweight champ in 2004 to the WBA Welterweight Championship after defeating challenger Carlos Quintana.
Oscar De la Hoya
The 35-year-old Mexican-American pugilist from East L.A. is an icon in the fight game, with a personal story that only adds to his legendary stature: Dedicating his 1992 Olympic Gold medal to his dying mother, he nearly hung up his boxing gloves after her death. Instead he persevered, fighting in five weight divisions and dispatching an impressive array of opponents in the process—Hector Camacho, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Pernell Whitaker among them. He recently became the first Hispanic to own a national boxing promotional firm with his Golden Boy Promotions, Inc.
Díaz can accurately claim to kick butt—in a very literal sense—in her chosen sport. This Mexico-born athlete’s impressive form was recently on display after defeating 18-year-old Kirstie Elaine Alora in the Good Luck Beijing 2008 International Invitational Tournament in the city that’s set to host the ’08 Olympics games.
A native of Mexico, the 23-year-old Duran is a rarity in this sport but has quickly made his mark since launching his professional career in 2002 when he came in second place in the 2002 Skip Barber National. The precocious sports star is only 23, and quickly gaining status as one of the sports most aggressive competitors.
The daughter of a Cuban political refugee, Fernandez’s stats speak for themselves: Previously an All-American at UCLA—where her 29-0 1992 record was just one of three perfect pitching seasons in NCAA history—she went on to garner Olympic gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens games. Slated to participate in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, you can bet she’ll be bringing the heat
Basketball, Sacramento Kings
A first-round draft pick in ’05, Garcia is a jack-of-all trades for his team. Well before being tapped by the Kings, Garcia distinguished himself as a solid player at the University of Louisville, averaging 16 points a game as a junior and leading his team to the 2005 Final Four. The Kings snapped up the 6’ 7” dynamo before his senior year to play for the NBA.
Hockey, New York Rangers center
Of Mexican and Colombian descent, Gomez is the first Hispanic NHL player in history. The 28-year-old is a scoring stud, with five goals and four assists in the ’06 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He helped his former team, the New Jersey Devils, reach the second round of the playoffs the following season. After becoming a free agent last summer, he was signed by the New York Rangers with—
ca-ching—a seven-year, $51.5 million contract.
Emanuel David “Manu” Ginóbili
Basketball, San Antonio Spurs
In San Antonio, the Argentine Wonder has unleashed Manu Mania—they chant his nickname during home games—for his intensity since joining the Spurs in 2002. Averaging 20 point a game, he has helped the Spurs win three of their four NBA championships. The former All-Star, who spent the early part of his career in Argentina and Italy, is now considered one of the NBA’s best players and the only baller to win the triumvirate Euroleague title, NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal.
While young whippersnappers are increasingly taking the top seeds in tennis, the 27-year-old González remains tops in the hearts of fellow Chileans for his accomplishments on the court. Nicknamed “Mano de piedra” for his hard-hitting forehand, he has defeated the best of the top-seeded players—Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras among them.
Football, Kansas City Chiefs tight end
Widely considered one of the NFL’s greatest tight ends ever, his tenure alone—he has spent his entire career with the Chiefs since signing in 1997—is remarkable. Even more so are his stats: most notably a record-breaking 102 receptions in the ’04 season, and distinction as the only tight end in NFL history with two 1,200-plus receiving yards in a season. Off the field, the part-Brazilian González embraces his heritage as a member of the Kansas and California National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Baseball, Cuba national team
Gourriel led Cuba to gold in the Athens Olympics and Pan American games of ’03. Each international outing spawns defection rumors, possibly wishful thinking of scouts who see him as a first-round pick if he ever came to the United States. But the 23-year-old—already considered one of the world’s best players—is Cuba’s best baseball hope for the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Although just 5’2”, this 21-year-old Paraguayan has emerged a giant in her sport, taking home a cool $1 million at the recent ADT Championship. Her other victories include the 2004 Orange Bowl International Junior Championship and the 2005 South Atlantic Ladies Amateur. In 2006, she started her rookie year with the LPGA.
Track and field
In January, the 31-year-old Guevara announced her retirement from competition after numerous honors, including gold medals in the 400 meters at the 1999 Pan American Games in Canada and the 2003 Pan American Games; a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic games; and another gold medal in the 2007 Pan American games. The cumulative effect of her success was an indelible mark in Mexico—particularly among women, who felt empowered by her success—so we’re hoping the champ reconsiders in time for Beijing.
Juan Martín Hernández
Rugby, Los Pumas of Argentina
Playing for the French rugby team Stade Français, Hernández has earned 20 caps for his national team in Argentina since joining the Pumas five years ago. At 25, he may have been wired for athletic success: His uncle, Patricio Hernández, played for the national team in the ’82 FIFA World Cup and his sister, Maria, won silver for Argentina in the 2000 Summer Olympics as a member of the national hockey team.
Soccer, AC Milan
The 25-year-old Brazilian with the unforgettable name has provided equally unforgettable performances on the field, earning him the award for FIFA World Player of the Year in ’07 as well as its European equivalent, the Ballon d’Or award. But for all his greatness, the playmaker remained humble in victory, telling those gathered at the awards ceremony in Zurich: “The Bible says God can give you more than you even ask for.”
Soccer, Brazilian national team
Instrumental in the 4-0 rout of the U.S. in last year’s Women’s World Cup semifinals, her performance included a sweet goal preceded by a behind-the-back flicker of the ball before outmaneuvering two players. Against Canada last year, she scored five times—including an astonishing three goals in the final 13 minutes. At 21, this force of nature is just getting warmed up.
Boxing, bantamweight division
Fans of Telefutura-televised fights virtually saw this Texas kid grow up, witnessing the evolution of a truly great fighter in the process. With 22 career fights thus far, he has won 13 by knockout. His mettle truly was tested at just 23, when he stopped previously unbeatable challenger Andres Ledesma in the eighth round in what’s widely regarded as his hardest-fought win.
Soccer, Chivas USA midfielder
The El Salto, Mexico, native is his team’s career leader in games and minutes played. Though he stands at just 5’ 5”, Mendoza’s shadow looms large on the tarmac. The 22-year-old already has three MLS seasons under his belt and is one of only two original Chivas USA members still on the roster.
Soccer player, Barcelona Club
Dubbed “The New King” by Sports Illustrated Latino, the 20-year-old Messi continues to amaze soccer aficionados with his mesmerizing playing abilities on the fild. Some observers predict he’ll one day join the ranks of Pelé and and Diego Maradona among the best practiotioners of the Beautiful Game.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Named NASCAR Rookie of the Year, this Colombian has already made quite a name for himself. In March, he earned his team’s first top-15 finish at the Bristol Motor Speedway after coming in 16th a week before at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The Olympic silver medalist for Cuba in ’04, Moreno has distinguished herself in a non-traditional sport. While still a teenager, she won the Pan American Junior Championships in Havana with a 55.74-meter throw, which she followed with a record-breaking, 66.34-meter throw two years later in Mexico City. Last year, she broke her own area record after throwing the hammer 75.64 meters in competition in Jamaica.
Widely regarded as Argentina’s most outstanding tennis player, Nalbandian stunned the tennis world by reaching the ’02 Wimbledon Final two years after turning pro—and on his first pro tournament played on grass. Although he’s been unable to match the success of ’02, he’s still ranked 7th worldwide among male tennis players.
Basketball, Denver Nuggets
The former Dallas Mavericks player is known to NBA lovers as a defensive specialist. Now playing as a forward for the Nuggets, the 6’8” 31-year-old Najera, who occupies number 21 on their roster, is one of the league’s most solid players. One of the few Mexican nationals to ever play in the NBA, he is particularly
adept at rebounding.
Golfer, LPGA tour
Superlatives stop short in describing this 26-year-old golfing phenom from Guadalajara, Mexico, so here are just a few breathtaking stats from ’07: a No. 1 world ranking; eight LPGA victories, including the Women’s British Open, her first major; winnings exceeding $4.3 million, obliterating Annika Sorenstam’s previous single-season record of $2.8 million. She’s hot, she’s unstoppable, she’s our Tiger Woods.
Baseball, designated hitter, Boston Red Sox
His nickname “Big Papi” may have been lost in translation, but Ortiz lived up to his moniker in a recent 6-5 victory during an exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, with a soaring, 514-foot homer in his first at-bat in the Tokyo Dome. Expect more great things to come for the Santo Domingo-born slugger, a four time All-Star and holder of the Red Sox single-season record of 54 home set in the 2006 season.
Track and field athlete
This world-champion race walker is revered in Ecuador, for whom he brought home the nation’s first-ever Olympic medal at the 1996 Olympics. He followed with impressive fourth place finishes in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics in Sydney and Athens. The 34-year-old is recovering from injuries this year, but is expected to be in top form for the Beijing ’08 Summer Olympics.
Miami Rowing Club member
Born in 1988 in Matanzas, Cuba, and now residing in Miami, Prendes is hoping to travel to Beijing as part of the 2008 Olympic Team. His chances are good, if one is to gauge from a partial compilation of recent awards: silver medals in the men’s A single sculls and men’s B single sculls at the 2005 South American Speed Championships; gold in the men’s junior double sculls and bronze in the men’s junior quadruple sculls at the 2005 USRowing National Championships; and silver in the men’s quadruple sculls at the 2005 USRowing Youth National Championships.
Shortstop, Florida Marlins
Nicknamed “the Hanley Man,” this young Dominican player has drawn comparisons to Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez for his all-around skills. At 6’ 3” and just over 200 pounds, he’s a force with which to be reckoned. And at just 24, the best is yet to come for this athlete, named the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Manuel “Manny” Ramirez
Baseball, Boston Red Sox left fielder
This Dominican has 490 homers to his credit, and chasing the record of fellow Sox legend Ted Williams. In a recent interview with the Canadian Press, the 36-year-old slugger predicted: “I’m going to get to 600. Why not? The sky’s the limit.” He expects to gain an extension to his $160 million, eight-year contract now in its final year: “I’m going to finish my career here,” he said, exhibiting the same level of confidence as in predicting his 600th homer.
In the recent World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Robles failed to advance from the first round of the 60-meter hurdles when he hesitated, thinking a competitor had made a false start. The worldwide shock at the early exit of this great athlete—one of the fastest 60-meter hurdlers in the history of the sport—only attests to the high regard in which the future Olympian is held throughout the world.
New York Yankees
At 32, “A-Rod” is widely considered as one of the best all-around players. The New York native of Dominican ancestry leads the Major Leagues in home runs, runs scored and RBIs since his first full season in 1997. He has already shattering the 500-homerun barrier, outperforming the likes of Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds prior to their 31st birthday. Those stunning accomplishments helped the Yankees ink an equally stunning, 10-year contract reportedly worth $275 million, the richest deal in the history of baseball.
Detroit Tigers catcher
This Puerto Rico-born athlete is widely considered the greatest defensive catcher ever. Approaching his 37th year, “Pudge” is getting up there, by sports standards. But consider this evidence that he’s still getting it done: he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999; has a high batting average among catchers; helped win the World Series for the Florida Marlins in ’03; reached the World Series as Detroit’s starting catcher in ’06; and reportedly will bat lead-off against lefty pitchers this season for Detroit.
This Cuban American native of Miami is a young world champ who has earned Olympic hardware, including two bronze medals in the 2002 Winter Olympics. In securing the medals, she blazed a trail transcending the ice, becoming the first Cuban American to compete and earn a medal in a Winter Olympics games.
As the son of his famous comedian father, Rodriguez, 23, has made a name for himself in the radical world of skateboarding. His name is the first Nike shoe named for a Hispanic athlete. Other accomplishments include back-to-back wins at the ’04 and ’05 X-games in the men’s skateboard street category and virtual appearances in several Tony Hawk’s video games.
Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Born Antonio Ramiro Romo in San Diego, Tony had already made a name for himself playing college ball at Eastern Illinois, winning the Walter Payton Award given to the nation’s top NCAA Division 1-AA player. Although the Cowboys fell short of reaching the Super Bowl last year, many predict a future appearance by a Romo-led Cowboys squad.
Soccer, FC Barcelona
Racked by injuries, “little Ronaldo” is having a rough time so far this year and may reportedly move to another team before his contract with Barcelona expires in 2010. He was twice named the FIFA World Player of the Year and considered one of the best soccer players in history.
This Panamanian’s every accomplishment—for example his 2006 South American indoor record and last year’s furthest jump of 8.53 meters in Brazil—fans the flames of national pride in a country virtually bereft of Olympic medals. To his compatriots, he’s seen as the best hope in a nation whose entire medal tally is two bronzes won in 1948.
Track and field
At 23, this Cuban athlete is one of her country’s best. She burst on the international scene in 2005, winning a silver medal at the World Championships. Last year, she earned gold in the triple jump during the same event. She followed with gold at this year’s World Indoor Championships—putting the world on notice for a likely bid for Beijing 2008.
Baseball, Texas Rangers
Mainstream America had Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, but we have Slammin’ Sammy Sosa, the Dominican who in 1998 exceeded by five the single-season record of 61 home runs in a single season set by Roger Maris in 1961. In reaching that milestone, Sosa—currently unsigned—is credited with helping revitalize the sport after a fan exodus following the 1994 baseball strike. His homerun race with Mark McGwire is now the stuff of baseball legend.
Boxing, World Super Bantamweight WBC champ
The 122-pound Mexican pugilist has given boxing aficionados some of the sport’s most memorable fights. Forfeiting his title last year because of injury, he beat the same opponent in a rematch to regain his crown and beating him a third time for good measure in March —overcoming a knockdown in the 4th to win by split decision.
Still a teenager, the Mexican star is widely touted as the next Hugo Sanchez for his similarity in playing style to the former Real Madrid great and current Mexico national team coach. With a long career before him, accolades already abound. His Golden Boot earned him international attention in 2005
Under-17 World Cup.
Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks forward
Two years into his pro career, Villanueva has distinguished himself for his aggressive play. Of Dominican descent, he was drafted seventh overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in the ’05 draft. He’s a leader off the field too, rallying the spirits of his littlest fans with his Charlie’s Angels On the Road sessions, designed to talk to kids afflicted with premature hair loss-causing alopecia areata, a condition he shares.
Although still in her 20s, this California athlete is already considered a pioneer. An Olympic champ, she earned a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney games before securing a bronze medal and the distinction of being the U.S. team’s leading scorer in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. But the Stanford grad made history before those wins, becoming the first Hispanic to be named to the women’s polo team.