I mentioned my dad is the greatest sprinter in Latin American history. He
was 1957 Athlete of the Year of the Republic of Panama and ran a
10.2 when the 100 meter world record was 10.1. He is considered on
a par with Hector
Lopez by some. He was among the first, if not the very first, Panamanian-educated athlete of color to get a college degree in the U.S. from an athletic scholarship. He was invited to run in the 1960 Rome Olympics, but was forced by the administrators of his scholarship to choose between the Olympics and a college degree. He went on to received his Bachelor's of Science degree in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry from Xavier University, a Master's of Science in Mathematics at Atlanta University, and a Master's and a Doctorate of Education with a concentration in Mathematics from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Many of you are a bit young to remember two-time World Series Champion Hector Lopez, but some
Yankee fan old timers recall him as the 3rd or 4th outfielder of
the Maris/Mantle Yankees. Lopez was basically the first Panamanian athlete to
have a career as a professional athlete in a major sport in the United States. He was productive as a 3rd
outfielder on the 1960,
Yankees. He stayed with the Yankees through the 1966 season. He
was less productive and possibly injured during the big 1961
Yankees Maris/Mantle home run chase. The team went to the World Series in each of his first 5 full seasons with the team and won twice.
Currently, Rolando Blackman is the best Latin American born player in NBA history, although some say the gap is closing between him and the best active Latin American player, Manu
Ginobili, who got his first All-Star nod last year. Ro was the first Latin born NBA All-Star.
I believe Panama has had some great soccer players, but I do not know soccer very well. Also, there are several great Panamanian athletes that predate the people I am mentioning here. Most of them predated organized major league sports and many did not perform much outside of Latin America to my knowledge.
Carew is from the neighboring town of my father's (and Lopez's).
I.E., Carew is from Gatún and my dad is from Colón. These are on
the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. Most of the population and
thus most great athletes are from Panama City which is on the
Pacific end. However, the generation that followed my Dad and Lopez was overrepresented by athletes from the Atlantic Canal Zone region (including Carew (11), Sanguillen (12) and Ogilve (7)) (parenthesis represents 1/1/57 age).
I am not saying for a fact that my dad knew any of these men or they knew him. However, it is likely that they knew him, looked up to him, and aspired to his athletic excellence. I know at the time of his death, my dad had 3 seemingly new official Anaheim Angels Turtlenecks. This was just a few months after they won the world Championships and Rod Carew spent half his career with the Angels. If they did aspire to be like my dad they probably represent a larger group of athletes. I imagine that for every person who succeeds at becoming a Major League All-Star there are probably dozens or hundreds who attempted to be great athletes and became much better than they would have without such a role model. I do not know much about my dad's fame. I only know 2 things about Panamanian media: 1. When my dad was growing up, they aired Jackie Robinson's baseball games on the radio; and 2. When some of my relatives were growing up, they aired my dad's races on the radio.
The internet is gradually making researching things much easier. I have been corrected on my statement that my dad is the greatest sprinter in Latin American History as per Wikipedia.1 I have a list of 4 athletes who have, in fact, tied officially recognized world records and my dad fell 1/10th short. The aforementioned, Mr. LaBeach, is controversial because he does not truly seem to be a product of Panamanian training. He was raised in Jamaica by Jamaican parents although he was born in Panama. However, there are additionally 2 Cubans and a Venezuelan who have claims that eclipse my dad's. In addition to Mr. LaBeach (Panama, 10.2, Fresno, California, USA, May 15, 1948), the following individuals representing Latin American countries have tied the World Record in the 100 meters: Horacio Esteves (Venezuela, 10.0, Caracas, Venezuela, August 15, 1964), Enrique Figuerola (Cuba, 10.0, Budapest, Hungary, June 17, 1967) and Silvio Leonard (Cuba, 9.9, Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, June 5, 1975). Thus, there are 4 athletes who have tied the world record representing Latin American countries. As many as 3 of them could have been born and raised in Latin American and one of them was almost surely born and raised in Central America or South America. However, my dad mostly raced on dirt and cinder tracks in his days in Panama. Nonetheless, the numbers as they are leave my dad with a possible claim as the fastest man (with respect to the contemporaneous world record) both born and raised in Mexico or Central America and as the 2nd fastest man both born and raised in Mexico, Central or South America. It seems that Horacio Esteves was both born and raised in Venezuela. I wonder if my father and Esteves ever raced in South American championships, Central American and Caribbean Games, Pan American games or similar such contest. I also wonder how my Dad may have fared against Mr. LaBeach, who retired the year my Dad was Athlete of the Year for the Republic of Panama.
A large part of my dad's accomplishment may have occurred at intranational track meets because my dad took as much pride in being from Colón as he did in being from Panama. I imagine he probably ran several important races against Panama City as a member of the Colón team the way he discusses the rivalry.
1 Additional track and field world record progression information can be found here