Eddy Álvarez, the “American dream” that came true one night in Tokyo

The baseball player and US flag-bearer was born in Miami, but his parents and grandparents are Cuban. His history has many surprises: he could be the third winter and summer Olympic medalist in history.

Eddy Alvarez Carries the United States Flag at Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony (Photo: Stefan Wermuth  /REUTERS)
Eddy Alvarez Carries the United States Flag at Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony (Photo: Stefan Wermuth /REUTERS)

They are also the “Games of the first time”, among the bittersweet adjectives that Tokyo 2020 has been offering.

For the first time in Olympic history, there were two flag bearers per country at the opening ceremony. Perhaps Sandra Henderson and Stéphanie Préfontaine had a distant influence.

The two of them marked a milestone when they lit the cauldron at the Montreal Olympics 45 years ago. In the Canadian city, the accredited people unveiled the large-sized credential on their chest that had been devised as prevention after the terrorist act four years before, in Munich 1972.

One curious fact, among several, of this historic parade in the great Tokyo Stadium, includes three standard bearers of Cuban blood for two countries, one of them at the head of the main world sports power.

The order of the march this time was marked by the Japanese alphabet. Many in the press box and in the broadcasts found it impossible to anticipate the order of the expeditions, this time reduced by health protocols.

The one born in Cuba was a standard bearer of the United States (Photo:   Mike Blake/REUTERS)
The one born in Cuba was a standard bearer of the United States (Photo: Mike Blake/REUTERS)

The Cuban delegation was led by the wrestler Mijain López, a three-time Olympic champion, and the world champion of discus throwing, Yaimé Pérez. In addition to the concern about the pandemic that affects all athletes in the world, to a greater or lesser degree, for the first time the athletes of the Caribbean island traveled to this historic commitment to the other side of the world under the impact of unprecedented days of social protests throughout the country.

Despite complex situations, and a decline in the traditional sports level, which the Havana government attributes to the Washington embargo, Cubans hope to remain among the top 20 countries in the general medal table.

At the end of the parade, before giving way to the sports embassy of Japan, the United States appeared with more than 200 athletes, almost a third of its registered delegation.

Legendary basketball player Sue Bird, with four Olympic gold medals, and baseball player Eddy Alvarez, silver medalist at the 2014 Winter Olympics in short track speed skating, were the American flag bearers. In the VIP box, First Lady Jill Biden watched. She saw Álvarez, who that night was the embodiment of the “American dream.”

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee applied a selection method to take into account outside its borders: voting among the members of the Olympic pre-selections to choose the two athletes who would be honored to carry the flag.

Alvarez, 31, was born in Miami and his parents and grandparents are Cuban. And it could elevate its Olympic history to the top when the baseball tournament concludes in Yokohama in the first week of August.

The Cuban-American became the first Olympic flag-bearer of his country.

“As a first generation Cuban American, my story represents the American Dream. My family has sacrificed so much for me to have the opportunity to wave this flag with pride,“ he said.

Last year he became the first winter sports Olympian to play in the major leagues. Alvarez played second base for the Miami Marlins.

Alvarez participated with the Marlins during 2020 in MLB (Photo:  Jim Rassol/USA TODAY Sports)
Alvarez participated with the Marlins during 2020 in MLB (Photo: Jim Rassol/USA TODAY Sports)

Alvarez is also the second Olympic medalist from a sport other than baseball to play in the majors, after Jim Thorpe. Sochi 2014 saw him win the silver medal in speed skating.

Thorpe, the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States, in athletics, played in the MLB from 1913 to 1919, primarily with the New York Giants, but also had seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves.

Alvarez attempted to qualify for the United States 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 to the 2014 Russian Games.

Álvarez returned to baseball after a three-year absence. He signed a minor league contract with the White Sox in June 2014, but never made it to the major league club. He was traded to the Marlins in March 2019.

On August 5, 2020, he played for the first time in the Big Top to fill the Marlins’ COVID-19 vacancies at the last minute.

He played the Pre-Olympic of the Americas that the United States won in Florida. His team is one of the favorites for the podium in Japan, which is why he would become a winter and summer Olympic medalist.

Eddy will seek to be a medalist of the winter and summer olympic games (Photo: Phil Noble/REUTERS)
Eddy will seek to be a medalist of the winter and summer olympic games (Photo: Phil Noble/REUTERS)

If he succeeds, he will be the third American to win medals at the Winter and Summer Olympics, after Eddie Eagen in 1920 (gold in light heavyweight boxing) and 1932 (gold in four-man sled) and Lauryn Williams. in 2004 (silver in 100 meters of track), 2012 (gold in 400 relays, although he did not run in the final) and 2014 (silver in two-cylinder sled).

On Friday night, American television surprised Alvarez at the end of the ceremony with interviews with his parents, and his wife who was holding their young son. “We are all very proud of you,” said Walter, his father, a native of Havana.

According to Reuters, Eddy Alvarez has joined the athletes of Cuban origin in the United States who have expressed solidarity with the recent anti-government protests on the Caribbean island.

About a dozen athletes of Cuban blood are part of the United States Olympic delegation in various sports.

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