Mexican archery stars Aida Román and Mariana Avitia made history at Lord’s Cricket Ground in the London 2012 Games by winning Mexico its first Olympic medals in the sport.
The duo’s achievement in taking silver and bronze in the individual competition was all the more remarkable given the continuing domination of the sport by the Republic of Korea – who top the all-time medal table with 30 appearances on the podium.
Román, 24, from Monterrey, was unbeatable in the early rounds of the event and eventually came up against her countrywoman Avitia, who shares the same coach, Song I Woo, in the semi-final.
After Román prevailed 6-2 she told journalists: “I was really happy at having come up against Mariana. I felt much more relaxed shooting against her. We are a team whether we are competing in the team or individual event. I was relaxed and in control.”
Come the final, Román pushed eventual gold medallist and world number two Ki Bo Bae all the way. The thrilling contest – watched by millions of Mexicans – was decided after a 5-5 tie with a nerve-wracking single-arrow shoot-off from 70 metres.
Top seed Ki brought gasps from the crowd when she shot outside the bullseye for an eight, leaving Román needing a nine or ten to take gold.
The South Korean was seen praying as Román stepped up to shoot – but she could only manage an eight, and officials deemed Ki’s effort to be the winning shot. Román had lost by the narrowest of margins.
Meanwhile, in the bronze match Avitia – just 19 years old – notched up a surprise win and beat five-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig of the USA into third place.
Despite not coming home with gold, Román and Avitia, friendly rivals, became overnight stars in Mexico.
Archery now enjoys its highest-ever profile in Mexico – even though the country’s gold medal in the men’s Football tournament at London garnered far more headlines.
The women’s appearance on the podium at Lord’s was the culmination of a decade-long focus on developing archery in the country, primarily through a talent-spotting drive run by Mexican National Archery in 29 of 32 states.
It first bore fruit at Beijing in 2008, where Juan Rene Serrano made it to the semi-finals in the men’s competition and Avitia – then just 15 years old – finished in the top 16 among the women.
Román’s silver medal adds to the team competition gold she earned in the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, along with bronze in the individual contest. Four years previously she won individual silver at the Rio Games.
She said after winning silver in London: “I am very happy and proud to be sharing the podium with Mariana. We have put in so much hard work into archery and it is paying off. I am so grateful to everybody who has supported us.”
“It’s a feeling of doing justice to the sport, to work all these years and for the sacrifice that you have to do to get this. Mexico made history.”
Avitia – who, like Román, says she intends to compete in Rio in 2016 – told journalists: “I couldn’t be happier – there are no words to describe it. Is this happening?”