Puerto Rico has consistently delivered outstanding athletes, from the late great baseball player Roberto Clemente to world champion boxer Felix “Tito” Trinidad, and one of the most recent figures to capture world attention is Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn.
At the last Olympic Games in Tokyo, this specialist in the 100-meter hurdles, conquered the second gold medal in the history of the small Caribbean Island, thus capping an unforgettable 2021, and fulfilling a dream that began as a child.
Camacho-Quinn, was born on August 21, 1996, in South Carolina and practiced gymnastics, basketball and ran rack since childhood, driven by her Puerto Rican mother María Milagros Camacho, who was a runner and long jumper, and her father James Quinn, who was also a hurdler.
It was in track and field where the young woman excelled in high school and then at the University of Kentucky (2016-2018) being a two-time national champion in the 100-meter hurdles (2016 and 2018) and the 4x100m relay (2017), as well as a six-time champion in the SEC conference.
In 2016 at age 19, Camacho-Quinn, found herself at the crossroads of representing the United States or Puerto Rico internationally, and chose to do so for the island to honor her mother and her Puerto Rican roots.
“When I started in athletics, I didn’t know the rules; I didn’t know I could represent Puerto Rico. Then I knew that I could, that because of my mother I could represent Puerto Rico. Because of my talent I could have been part of the USA team. I have no doubts, but I decided to represent that part of me (Puerto Rican). My mom couldn’t represent Puerto Rico and she wanted me to be able to. Seeing the happy face that I represent Puerto Rico is the best,” the athlete recalled during an interview in Tokyo with the newspaper El Nuevo Día.
While representing Puerto Rico at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro she lived a bitter experience. In a packed Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, her medal dreams ended abruptly in the semifinals. Camacho-Quinn jumped the first seven hurdles without problems but knocked down the eighth and then the next to be disqualified in the event.
The image of Jasmine weeping as she knocked down the tenth hurdle and kneeling on the track in tears, swept the world. Within seconds her dream of getting on the podium vanished.
After the frustrating experience in Rio, she also had to deal with injuries that hindered her participation with the Puerto Rican delegation. She missed the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquillas, Colombia, because of an injury to one of his knees and was also unable to attend the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru .
However, five years later – one more than the usual four years between the Olympics due to the pandemic – came the opportunity for redemption in Tokyo.
Camacho-Quinn arrived at the Olympics at her best, after winning 12 of her last 13 races, several of the events being part of the prestigious Diamond League, among other important competitions. And the Puerto Rican did not disappoint.
A day after she broke the Olympic record in the 100-meter hurdles that belonged to the Australian Sally Peterson (12.35) by registering 12.26 in the third heat of the semifinal, she wrote her name in history by taking the gold with a time 12.37.
It was only Puerto Rico’s second gold medal at the Olympic games, after tennis player Mónica Puig won the first medal in Rio 2016.The sprinter dedicated her triumph to the island and her family, who excitedly celebrated the victory at a restaurant in Sumerville, South Carolina, as they were unable to be in Tokyo due to the closure of the Games to the public because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I’m sure everyone is very happy. In such a small island, this gives people hope and I’m glad I was the one who did it, I’m very happy,” Camacho-Quinn said through tears.
The images of a beaming Jasmine Camacho wrapped in the Puerto Rican flag, lifting her to highest levels in the Olympic track world, traveled the world. When she climbed to the top of the podium to receive her gold medal, she did so with a maga flower – the national flower of Puerto Rico – adorning her hair as she listened to “La Borinqueña” in tears.
At Rio 2016, her tears were of pain, frustration and disappointment, but five years later, they were of happiness for a gold medal that helped her bury ghosts forever and put Puerto Rico back on the Olympic map.
“It took a while to convince myself that I just won a medal with my effort. It’s history, really. Something big. And when I grabbed the flag I said, ‘This is me, representing (my country).’ The feeling is inexplicable,” explained the new Olympic queen.