LONDON—Marching under the blue-and-white standard of Nicaragua, the small team of six Nicaraguan Olympians joined a procession of 10,500 athletes from 204 nations to celebrate the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Games in London on Friday night.
Nicaraguan flag bearer Osmar Bravo, a boxer and the only Nicaraguan athlete to qualify for the Olympics by merit, was a picture of pride. At 27 years old, the cabinetmaker from the small Caribbean community of Muelle de los Bueyes is one of the oldest members of Nicaragua’s youthful team—and perhaps the country’s best opportunity to advance in the Olympic Games.
Compared to other Central American nations, Nicaragua’s team of six is quite small, yet all are proud for the opportunity to represent their country on the world’s greatest sporting stage.
The only Nicaraguan to ever win a medal is Michele Richardson de Ahlers, who won an Olympic Silver for the United States in the 1984 Games. Richardson was originally selected by President Daniel Ortega to be Nicaragua’s flag bearer at this year’s opening ceremony, but a last-minute rule change requiring the flag bearer to be a participating athlete prevented Richardson from performing the honorific.
“Briefly, at first, Michele felt very sad, but she understood the reasoning and saw it was a good rule,” Richardson’s husband, Carl Ahlers, told The Nicaragua Dispatch in an email from London. “And she embraced the moment and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of walking with the Nicaraguan National Olympic Team.”
“Michele spent several hours with the athletes, giving words of encouragement to each of them, particularly to Osmar Bravo,” Ahlers added. “She also spoke with Dalia Torres, the swimmer whom Michele has known for a long time and who just this morning broke the Nicaraguan National Record for the 100 meter. She also spoke to the rest of the athletes. Michele loved spending time with the athletes. She feels at home with them because they all come from the same pod.”
In the end, Richardson still got her opportunity to represent Nicaragua. And even though the flag she carried was smaller, the moment was no less.
“She feels honored to have been given the opportunity and to have walked with the Nicaraguan Olympic Team,” Ahlers says.
The opening ceremony, which began shortly after 8 p.m., was a celebration of British history and culture: fields of green and bucolic visions turned into the grey of industrial revolution. It had all been meticulously put together in top secret by a team led by the film-director Danny Boyle, who recently came to worldwide fame with Slumdog Millionaire.
The spectacular was peppered with humor, as Queen Elizabeth II joined James Bond actor Daniel Craig in a hilarious spoof, while children bounced on oversized beds as a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the NHS, Britain’s nationalised and widely championed health service. There was no shortage of fireworks and the precision of the performers and choreography illustrated that months and months of hard work went into the preparation.
Actors and celebrities joined sportsmen and volunteers in the hour-long ceremony that culminated in the lighting of the Olympic flame, which stood high at the centre of the main stadium, by six nominated youths. This set of a lengthy procession of athletes led by Greece as part of the Olympic tradition and was closed by the optimistic Great British team.
Who is Team Nicaragua?
So who are Nicaragua’s six athletes? And do they have any chance of winning a medal?
Of the six competitors, boxer Osmar Bravo was the only one to win his place at this year’s Games; the other five were invited. In May, Bravo took home a bronze medal from Brazil as he made his way to the semi-finals of the American Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament. He was also a silver medallist at the last Central American Games.
Hailing from a small village in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), Bravo will be competing in the Light Heavyweight category (81kg). His first fight is on Monday against the Bosko Draskovic, who comes from the ex-Yugoslavian nation of Montenegro; he is also two years Bravo’s junior, taller and has a longer reach.
If Bravo wants to add to his 66 victories and avoid his 14 defeat, he will need to put all five years of professional boxing experience into his first Olympic performance. In any case Bravo is optimistic and called his opportunity to represent Nicaragua “a dream come true.”
Of the other five Nicaraguans, one has already competed. Swimmer Dalia Torrez Zamora finished last in her heat in the ‘Women’s 100m butterfly’. Although this meant that she failed to qualify and will not continue further in the Games, the 22 year old accountant did set a new Nicaraguan record.
Swimmer Omar Nunez will begin his Olympic journey on July 31 in the Men’s 100m freestyle. Lucia Castañeda will be competing on the same day against nine other weightlifters in the “Women’s 63kg” category.
The final two competitors will have to wait a bit longer for their Olympic moment.
Ingrid Narvaez, 18, will compete on Aug. 3 in the Women’s 440m, and Edgar Cortez, 22, will be running in the Men’s 800m on Aug. 6.
As the lights shone over East London, on a night that was almost unanimously hailed as a success, six young Nicaraguans joined thousands of other nationalities to become part of history—and it’s a moment none of them will soon forget.
David Hutt is a freelance writer from London, UK, who will be on the trail of Latin America during the next year and will be working as a tour guide in Leon, Nicaragua. Follow his travels and misadventures on his blog.