Mexican boxer Misael Rodriguez became a national hero this week after securing his country’s first and perhaps only medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The young middle weight boxer won a bronze medal for Mexico after beating Egypt’s Hosam Bakr Abdin. The Mexican pugilist will now face Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuzieve for the silver-medal boxing match on Thursday and a shot at the finals on Saturday.
But Rodriguez's fight to get to the Olympics started long before Rio. A year ago he and some of his teammates took to the streets of Mexico City, hopping on buses at traffic lights to ask for spare change. The athletes had to resort to “begging” to raise money to compete in international boxing tournaments.
His story along with his country's poor performance in Rio is shedding light on the challenges that many Mexican athletes face. The Mexican government has been harshly criticised for mismanaging an already small budget to support athletes and for appointing a controversial former state prosecutor, Alfredo Castillo, to lead the country’s sports commission— a job usually reserved for a high-profile athlete.
Castillo immediately tried to appropriate Rodriguez’ Olympic win, without acknowledging that in 2015 the boxer had to ask for money on the streets to pursue his dream.
So far Rodriguez has not issued a statement on the matter and seems to be focused only on achieving boxing glory, a feat that could bring some much needed joy to what has been one of Mexico’s most disappointing Olympic performances to date.