Puerto Rico, the First in 1979, Does a First Await for Caribbean Island in 2015? - Butterfly Table Tennis
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Hector Berrios

Puerto Rico, the First in 1979, Does a First Await for Caribbean Island in 2015?

Puerto Rico, the First in 1979, Does a First Await for Caribbean Island in 2015?
2015 Pan American Games
Courtesy of ITTF

A total of 14 countries have won medals in the table tennis events at the Pan American Games but one of them is not the country that played host, when the sport was first staged in the continental gathering in San Juan in 1979.

Puerto Rico has never secured a medal but now in 2015, surely the small Caribbean island has its best chance of ending the drought as the young players, who have graduated through the various age groups, become worthy adversaries for any opponent in the whole of the continent.

At the forthcoming 2015 Pan American Games, which commences on Sunday July 19th with the Men’s Team and Women’s Team events in the Canadian city of Toronto, Puerto Rico is most certainly a major challenger for honors.

The Teams
Represented by Brian Afanador, Hector Berrios and Daniel Gonzalez, they are the no.6 seeds in the Men’s Team event; in the counterpart female competition they occupy the no.4 seeded position. Carelyn Cordero lines up alongside Adriana Diaz and Melanie Diaz.

The selections very much underline the progress that has been made in Puerto Rico this century and represents a new generation that emerged.

Senior Citizen
Very much at 29 years of age, Hector Berrios is the one player from a more senior class and perhaps the one player who has been required to sit back, as those ten years or more his junior have stolen the headlines.

Brian Afanador, the winner of the Junior Boys’ Singles title at the recent 2015 Latin American Junior and Cadet Championships and a most creditable fourth place finish in the ITTF-Latin American Cup has very much been young man to attract the attention.

Alongside Daniel Gonzalez, spending much of the time at the celebrated Falkenberg Club in Sweden under the guidance of Peter Karlsson, they spearhead the Puerto Rican challenge in the Men’s Team event.

Key Player
However, could the key to a Puerto Rican medal hopes lay in Hector Berrios; he may not have been showered with the accolades that his more junior colleagues have received but he is ever faithful, ever present, ever reliable.

He may not be the player to produce the sensation, equally he will not be the player to go to sleep and suffer a calamity; his efforts may go virtually unnoticed.

Xalapa 2014
Deservedly Brian Afanador hit the headlines when he beat both Andy Pereira and Yohan Mora in the final of the Men’s Team event against Cuba at the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Sport Games in the Mexican town of Xalapa.

Puerto Rico won by three matches to two; Brian Afanador was the star but make no mistake Hector Berrios played his part.

He partnered Daniel Gonzalez to a vital doubles win; the success coming after the latter had experienced an agonizing five games defeat at the hands of Jorge Campos by the very narrowest of margins. The win against Jorge Campos and Yohan Mora was crucial; more pertinent, the Puerto Ricans won in three straight games.

Cuban Change
In Toronto could that combination secure a podium finish? Notably the Cubans make one change to the Xalapa line-up, Livan Martinez replaces Yohan Mora; for Puerto Rico there is no change.

A medal opportunity for Puerto Rico; a repeat of the Xalapa performance and it is well within reach. At the 2015 Pan American Games, Cuba occupies the second seeded place in the Men’s Team event.

Gold in Mexico
Success for the Puerto Rican Men’s Team in Xalapa; there was also success for the counterpart Women’s Team.

At the final hurdle they beat the Colombian outfit comprising Paula Medina, Lady Ruano and Angie Umbacia by three matches to nil.

Both teams are unchanged for Toronto and just as Brian Afanador is the team leader in the Men’s outfit; the same applies to Adriana Diaz in the counterpart Women’s trio.

Experienced Teenager
One of the most experienced 14 year olds on planet earth, whilst the Pan American Games is very much the sporting event of the year for the continent and nerves will jingle; for Adriana Diaz it will be another day at the office.

Time and again she has hit the headlines; equally Carelyn Cordero, now 21 years old, has enjoyed international glory and is one of the most successful players on the ITTF Junior Circuit.

She has no less than four Junior Girls’ Singles titles to her credit, she won in 2011 in El Salvador, retained the title one year later in addition to succeeding in Malta and Mexico.

Just as Daniel Gonzalez is the major pillar of support for Brian Afanador and Hector Berrios is ye good and faithful servant; is it not the same scenario for the Puerto Rican Women’s Team?

Adriana Diaz is the star name, Carelyn Cordero has enjoyed international success, Melanie Diaz is ever secure; her problem is she is the sister of Adriana. She has to live in the shadows of her younger sibling.

Melanie Diaz
However, make no mistake, Melanie Diaz is a fine player in her own right; notably just over one year ago, she was the runner up in the Colombian city of Medellin in the Junior Girls’ Singles event at the Latin American Junior and Cadet Championships. In the final, she was beaten in seven games by Venezuela’s Gremlis Arvelo.

Similar to Hector Berrios in the Men’s Team event could Melanie Diaz prove the crucial player for Puerto Rico? At the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Sport Games, in the Women’s Team event, she always played in the doubles match, she always won.

In 1979 Puerto Rico was involved in a first; will it be the same in 2015, a first medal in the table tennis events at the Pan American Games?

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