On Thursday night, August 5 in Tokyo, many in America were waiting for the United States to qualify for the Olympic baseball final after 21 years and for the new feat of Cuban American athlete Eddy Alvarez.
Both events came true and Alvarez, one of the two U.S. flag bearers in the delayed Olympic Games that are now nearing an end, has just become the third American and the sixth athlete in the world to win a medal in both Summer and Winter Olympic Games, historian Bill Mallon confirms to Around the Rings.
He was also the first baseball player from his country to be named flag bearer for an Olympic parade.
The 31-year-old Miami native, of Cuban blood, is also part of the centennial history of the sport on the Caribbean island where his parents were born and from where they emigrated to the United States.
Alvarez secured a Summer Olympic medal when the United States defeated South Korea 7-2 in the semifinal of the Olympic tournament being played without a crowd at Yokohama Stadium, 35 kilometers from Tokyo.
The United States will face Japan on Saturday for the title. Since the introduction of baseball to the Olympic program in Barcelona 1992, the U.S. has only reached one final, with Cuba in Sydney 2000, and was crowned champion under the legendary Tommy Lasorda.
Alvarez won a silver medal in 2014 at the Sochi Olympics as part of the U.S. four-man short track team.
He is the first American man to accomplish the feat since Eddie Eagen won gold in boxing at Antwerp 1920 and in the bobsled relay at Los Angeles 1932. Lauryn Williams (track and field in 2004 and 2012, and bobsled in 2014) is the other athlete with medals in both types of Olympic Games.
Alvarez will also be the sixth athlete in history with these two medals. In addition to his fellow countrymen Eagen - the only one with two golds - and Williams, Norwegian Jacob Tullin Thams, first champion in ski jumping at the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France, and silver medalist at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, as part of the Norwegian yacht crew, are also in this exclusive club.
Germany’s Christa Luding-Rothenburger is the only athlete to win medals at the Summer and Winter Olympics in the same year. After winning gold in the 500-meter speed skating in 1984, she repeated the feat in 1988 plus a gold in the 1,000 meters, then winning silver in speed cycling in Seoul 1988. In Albertville 1992, she won bronze in speed skating.
Canadian Clara Hughes won bronze in the individual road race and time trial in cycling at Atlanta 1996 and at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games she won bronze in speed skating. She won gold in that same event at Turin 2006 and bronze at Vancouver 2010.
“I can’t help but think about my journey. So many “thank you’s” are in order for this one. But we did it! It’s official! 2 X medalist! Still...a job in hand: LOOKING FOR GOLD! GO BOYS!” wrote the infielder shortly after the game against the Koreans was over. Two other Cuban-Americans on Team USA, first baseman Triston Casas and pitcher Nick Martinez, have excelled in Yokohama.
Japan, which halted its professional league season for top athletes to compete in the Olympics, defeated the U.S. 7-6 in 10 innings in the second round of double elimination on Monday.
In the bronze-medal match, South Korea (3-3) will face the Dominican Republic (2-3).
Alvarez became the first winter sports Olympian to play in Major League Baseball. He did so on August 5, 2020 to fill last-minute COVID-19 vacancies with the Miami Marlins.
He is also the second Olympic medalist from a sport other than baseball to make it to the Majors, after Jim Thorpe.
Thorpe, the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States, in track and field, played in the MLB from 1913-19, primarily with the New York Giants, but also had stints with the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves.
Alvarez attempted to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, but failed.
He underwent surgery on both knees in March 2012. A year and a half later he was back on the ice with his Olympic career, which took him in 2014 to the Russian Games. He returned to baseball after a three-year absence with a minor league contract.
Alvarez has been one of the Cuban-born athletes in the United States who has forcefully sent his message of solidarity with the Cuban people following the July 11 protests across the island.
The Miami native takes the field in every game wearing special sneakers with the colors of the Cuban flag.