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    Puerto Rico Swimmers Make A Splash At CAC Games

    By Gabrielle Paese

    November 29, 2002
    Copyright 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD.
    All Rights Reserved.

    Puerto Rico is already deep into its first week of the Central American-Caribbean Games in El Salvador and the victories are coming through swimmingly. Through four days of competition, Puerto Rico has already won 17 medals, 10 of them in the pool.

    This tiny Caribbean island has always boasted a strong swimming program. The darling of the 1962 and 1966 CAC Games, Anita Lallande still holds the island record for most medals won at CAC Games with a total of 17 and 10 gold. Ponce native Jesse Vassallo, a former world champion, is in the sport's Hall of Fame and Ricky Busquets, one of this delegation's stars, has already notched a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle.

    Teammate Sonia Alvarez, making a comeback after two years out of the pool, earned three gold medal finishes in her first three events. Alvarez, who is participating in her fourth CAC Games, could break Lallande's record of 17 medals at these games if she finishes among the top three in her remaining five events.

    Swimming will likely be the sport to win the most medals for Puerto Rico (a total of 96 are up for grabs in the pool). Track and field, due to its sheer number of events, hands out the greatest number of medals (138), followed by weightlifting (135).

    Puerto Rico's track and field athletes are expected to do modestly well when that sport gets underway next week, but the island's runners have been outclassed at the regional level for at least the past three decades.

    The CAC Games are the only time in the Olympic cycle (CAC Games, Pan Am Games, Olympics) that Puerto Rico's amateur athletes really get a chance to shine. For the games' two-week duration, pro baseball, boxing and basketball (the 3 B's) take a backseat to sports like karate, fencing, sailing and table tennis. Omar Correa already won two silver medals at these games in karate and the island's men's and women's table tennis teams each have cinched bronze medals. Enrique Figueroa and his wife, Carla Malatrassi, are in Valle del Bravo, Mexico, this week (CAC Games sailing venue) defending their 1998 CAC Games gold medal on a Hobie Cat.

    Cotto KOs Mexico's Hernandez before hometown crowd

    Puerto Ricans Miguel Cotto (13-0, 10 KO) and Ivan Calderon (13-0, 3 KO) both emerged victorious last weekend in their ESPN2 Top Rank fight card broadcast from Caguas' Hector Sola Bezares Coliseum.

    Super lightweight Cotto scored a seventh round knockout over Mexico's Ubaldo Hernandez, who fell to (18-10-2, 9 KO). Calderon won a lopsided unanimous decision over Nicaragua's Lee Sandoval (19-8-2, 10 KO) for the NABO light flyweight regional title.

    It was a night of good boxing and stateside boxing promoters who say that boxing's non-heavyweight audience has died out need to visit Puerto Rico. Some 7,000 fans turned out to watch a non-title fight between the hometown favorite and a virtual unknown. Cotto at this point in his career is a bright prospect but still a diamond in the rough. If 3.8 million Puerto Ricans don't make a potential fan base for the sport, then boxing's big promoters (and smaller ones too) need to have their heads checked. Maybe they caught too many punches.

    Will smaller sports get squeezed out with arrival of Expos?

    There was some grumbling in the ranks this week in reaction to the news that the Montreal Expos will play 22 of their 2003 season games at San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Puerto Rico Winter League officials were miffed that no one sought their approval before approving the deal. Caribbean Baseball Confederation president Juan Francisco Puello said a protest is in the works. Puello and the local winter league are seeking some kind of financial compensation because he says Major League Baseball is violating the Winter League Agreement by invading local turf. Local players union president Papo Rosado is furious because he fears the winter league's nonexistent fan base will erode even further.

    "The sponsors have a limited amount of money and they're going to invest it in the Expos games because they'll get better exposure," said Rosado. "What will be left over? This is going to affect basketball and volleyball and the winter league as well."

    Puerto Rico Track and Field president Jose Enrique Arraras said the Expos games might give local baseball a boost, but he's sure it won't help any other sports, in particular, his.

    "The sponsorship pie in Puerto Rico is so limited," said Arraras. "It's a fact that there's only a limited amount of money leftover for the rest of the sports. With the Expos here, there will be even less. It's the equivalent of Walmart coming in and running the smaller stores out of business."