In an Olympics that has been record-setting and barrier-breaking for women of color in a variety of sports, the island Puerto Rico has finally joined the diversity party.
Puerto Rico had never won a gold medal in any event in the history of the Olympic Games -- until Saturday when 22-year-old Monica Puig pulled off a stunning upset in the women’s tennis final — blitzing reigning Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber.
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Puig understood the magnitude of her accomplishment and didn’t sell the moment short.
“I think I united a nation,” Puig said afterward. “And I just love where I come from.”
It was reported that the capital of San Juan erupted in celebration after the unseeded Puig, ranked No. 34 in the world, dusted off the second-seeded Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, making Puig the first unseeded women’s singles gold medalist since tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988.
Even before Saturday’s historic win, Puig, was assured of being the first woman representing Puerto Rico to earn a medal of any color at any Olympics.
Few expected her to be able to hang with Kerber, who was seeded No. 2, won the Australian Open in January, and was the runner-up at Wimbledon last month. Kerber was trying to give Germany its first singles gold since tennis legend Steffi Graf in '88.
Puig’s upset exemplifies the unpredictability, excitement and uniqueness of the Olympics. No one expected Puig to contend for a gold, but she got on a run and her Olympic spirit and skill carried her to a permanent place in history and has made her an overnight superstar and Puerto Rican icon.
The impact of Puig's Olympic victory extends beyond sports. Her victory is a healing agent and source of tremendous pride for a country in financial turmoil.
"I just want to tell them this is for them," said an emotional Puig. "They're going through some tough times and they needed this and I needed this," she said.
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For the first time in Olympic history, the sounds of the Puerto Rican anthem La Borinqueña, emitted from the stadium as Puig proudly took her gold medal position on the podium.
Puig’s dazzling deed also inspired and impressed other Puerto-Rican born athletes. “Best sport moment I have ever witnessed,” former major league baseball player Alex Cora told the Daily News.
And Gigi Fernandez, a Puerto Rican-born tennis player who won Olympic gold in doubles in 1992 and 1996, representing the U.S., predicted a “heroes’ welcome” for Puig. “They might rename the capital of Puerto Rico to Monica,” Fernandez said.