The Lady of Costa Rica
From Ricardo Prado (Brazil) and Ana Maria Schutlz (Argentina) to Alberto Eugenio Mestre (Venezuela) and Ana Lallande (Puerto Rico), Latin America has had notable swimmers, but none to compare with Silvia Poll Ahrens, a famous athlete from Costa Rica between 1986 and 1992. Born in Managua, Nicaragua, Miss Poll, whose parents were from Nordrein, Westfalia (Germany), moved to Costa Rica in the late 70s (during the Nicaraguan war). With support from her family -as several Latin American athletes-she won a silver medal in the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Like Mireya Luis Hernandez (volleyball), Nadia Comaneci (gymnastics), and Sonja Henie (skating), she had been recognized early on as a prodigy. She had started training with Francisco Rivas in the early 80s, together with other swimmers such as Marcela Cuesta, Monserrat Hidalgo, and Sigrid Niehaus. The rigorous training began to yield results in the mid-1980s. At the 1986 Central American & Caribbean Games in the Dominican Republic, Poll, when she was only 15 years old, picked up a total of ten medals; one of the best performances by a woman in sport history. But that was not all.
Silvia Poll & Óscar Arias Sánchez
By August 1987, she picked up a total of eight Pan American medals ( 3 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze) in Indianapolis, Indiana (U.S.A), sparking off celebrations in the Central American republic. Certainly the results were impressive for the size of the country, more than twice the size of Massachusetts. Curiously Costa Rica had not won a Pan American medal since 1951, when the country’s football team was runner-up at the First Pan American Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In Indiana, Miss Poll was elected “Queen of the international Games”. After that event, she captured six gold medals in Cincinnati, America.
Nicaraguan-born Costa Rican swimmer Silvia Poll was twice named Best Athlete of Latin America (1987 & 1988), ahead of Diego Armando Maradona and Ayrton Senna. Despite these achievements, she suffered a serious setback when she was not backed by the nation’s then-President Óscar Arias Sánchez (and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner). As a result, she could not compete in many pre-Olympic tournaments in Australia, Europe, USSR and the United States. Without a doubt, she lost the chance to be an Olympic champ.
Today she, as famous as a football star in Central America, is remembered not only for her achievements, but for her unique discipline. After her retirement from the national team, Latin America’s swimmers were never as successful again at the Summer Olympics until 1996 when Claudia, Silvia’s sister, won a gold medal in the Olympiad in America.