Wednesday, May 25

Tokyo 2020: Argentina bets on water and fire | Olympic Games 2021

Players of the Argentine field hockey team celebrate in a match against Spain in the run-up to the Olympics, on July 7.
Players of the Argentine field hockey team celebrate in a match against Spain in the run-up to the Olympics, on July 7.Ana Escobar / EFE

Men’s soccer, basketball, rugby and handball teams. Men’s and women’s hockey and volleyball teams. It is not clear how Argentina will fare in Tokyo 2020 – and quite possibly it will not reach the three gold medals it achieved in Rio de Janeiro 2016 after almost seven decades, since London 1948 – but its cover letter, with eight teams groups that qualified after going through very demanding pre-Olympic tournaments, confirms a spirit of competitiveness and tradition only comparable to the great sports powers of the world, such as Spain, France and the United States.

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The scenario, however, remains indecipherable after the pandemic disrupted planning and many athletes stopped training or competing for a handful of months. In a time of instability, Argentina will point its medal options to its two most trusted sports of the last Games, sailing and field hockey. In short, the water from the boats and the fire from their collective teams.

Regattas have become a factory of Olympic medalists in the last 25 years: since Atlanta 1996, the Argentine sailing representatives have been on the podium for six consecutive Games and will try to repeat that modern custom in Tokyo 2021. The flag bearers at the opening ceremony They will be Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza, winners of the gold in Rio 2016 and spearhead of a mission that, between the international isolation due to the pandemic and a change in the internal policy of financing sports, does not finish decoding what their expectations are.

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Lange, 59, now a grandfather and resilient from an operation in which 30 percent of his lungs were removed due to cancer, will become in Japan the Argentine with the most Olympic participations, seven, one more than the cyclist Juan Curuchet . He will also seek to get on the podium for the fourth time: he debuted in Seoul 88 and was also bronze in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. If he succeeds, he will become the top Argentine medalist along with another sailor, Carlos Mauricio Espínola, and a hockey star, Luciana Aymar, both with four metals and already retired.

Argentina clings to water, but also to field hockey, the other sport that has guaranteed it medals in the last five Games. First it was the women’s team, who won two silvers and two bronzes between Sydney 2000 and London 2012, and then the men’s team, who celebrated the gold medal in Rio 2016. The Olympic champions do not arrive at Tokyo 2020 at their best, but there is hope for the women to return to the podium.

The men’s basketball team will at least guarantee their usual heart. Under the command of the eternal Luis Scola, now 41 years old and in his fifth and last Olympic Games, the current runners-up in the world will have to go through a very complicated initial phase. The last survivor of the Golden Generation, and winner of the gold in Athens 2004, is escorted by a new breed of players who in recent months have reached the NBA, such as Facundo Campazzo. The sub 23 of men’s football, a riveted formation to which many clubs denied their players (there are no representatives of River or Boca), arrived in Japan with the intention of maintaining the green wave of the Copa América that Lionel Messi recently won in Brazil. However, the debut, in the first Argentine activity in the Games, was with a surprising stumble: “the albiceleste” lost 2-0 to Australia on Thursday night in Sapporo and must beat Spain and Egypt to advance to the stage.

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Match between Argentina and Australia, this Thursday, in Tokyo.
Match between Argentina and Australia, this Thursday, in Tokyo.SIlvia Izquierdo / AP

As in Seoul 1988 with Gabriela Sabatini, Barcelona 1992 with the Javier Frana-Christian Miniussi duo and Rio 2016 with Juan Martín del Potro, tennis can also bring a medal. The main candidate seems to be the doubles player Horacio Zeballos, fourth in the world ranking of his specialty and recent finalist at Wimbledon, who will participate in pairs with Nadia Podoroska in the mixed category and Andrés Molteni in the men’s category. With many casualties in the box singles of men, Diego Schwartzman was eighth seed, although the tournament will be on a hard surface and the best performances of the porteño are usually on brick dust.

Among Olympic debutants, the name to follow is Delfina Pignatello, a charismatic swimmer who won three gold medals at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games. However, the 21-year-old seemed to lose ground after the pandemic: due to the restrictions of mandatory isolation, she remained four months without training and her subsequent times were far from her best marks.

The swimmer Delfina Pignatiello, in an image of the Lima 2019 Pan American Games.
The swimmer Delfina Pignatiello, in an image of the Lima 2019 Pan American Games.ORLANDO BARRÍA / EFE

Among the 181 athletes summoned, the third largest Argentine delegation in history behind London 1948 and Rio 2016, the podium of figures is completed between Lange, Scola and Paula Paretto. The judoka was Olympic champion in Rio and, although she did not add good results in recent years and had to be operated on in 2019, she already showed that she has the sacred fire: in Beijing 2008 she won the bronze medal. Paretto is an Argentine sports legend who, in her day-to-day life, in addition to training on the mat, works as a traumatologist. From her place, she faced the pandemic as a doctor and a high-performance athlete. Pareto is called “La Peque” (he measures 1.48) but he synthesizes the aspirations of greatness of his delegation, even in the face of the most enigmatic Games.

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