By James Francis
“You are the pride of our country: Thank you for all your hard work, effort, discipline and, of course, for bringing the gold medal to our little island, especially now when it is needed more than ever.”
This was the message directed to Puerto Rico’s now famous table tennis sisters Melanie Diaz and Adriana Diaz, as well as national team-mate Daniely Rios, after the star trio clinched Women’s Team Gold at the recently concluded Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, thus booking their place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The source of the message was no other than Puerto Rican singer, songwriter and actor Luis Fonsi, best known for his huge 2017 hit “Despacito” and now one of the most recognised faces of Latin American music in the mainstream world.
Fonsi’s words of praise for his country’s heroes in Lima actually represent the latest event in which a famous musician from the island has expressed their support or admiration for their compatriot table tennis stars.
Daddy Yankee funds Diaz trips
Hailing from the Puerto Rican city of Rio Piedras and known as the “King of Reggaeton” by music critics and fans alike, Daddy Yankee has tried to use his platform to give back to his community, such as supporting relief efforts in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurrican Maria.
Towards the end of 2018, he came to the rescue of Adriana and Melanie Diaz, whose participation at ITTF events was in severe. jeopardy since they could not afford the costly airfare. In fact, their coach was forced to cancel their trip to Europe where they were due to compete at the Swedish and Austrian Opens.
Typically, the Olympic Committee of Puerto Rico would pay for athletes to compete in these tournaments, but given the debt crisis that has devastated the Caribbean island, the organization was unable to fund their flights.
However, in stepped Daddy Yankee, whose generous actions allowed the Diaz sisters to attend both events and gain precious world ranking points in the process. Without that intervention, who knows if Puerto Rico’s sisters might have lost momentum and much-need experience to keep up their promising careers on the international stage?
Given a platform to continue playing table tennis at the highest level, the Diaz sisters have, in many ways, paid back that money in the form of national pride thanks to their recent achievements in Lima. It is no wonder that their gold medals have been so celebrated by the island as a whole.
Livin’ la Vida Loca!
Twenty years on from his number-one hit song “Livin’ la Vida Loca”, Puerto Rican singer and actor Ricky Martin showed his face to the world of table tennis fans in February 2019.
Arguably still the island’s greatest celebrity, boasting 12.6 million followers on Instagram, Martin sent out a message of encouragement to Brian Afanador, who had just reached the quarter-finals of the Universal 2019 ITTF Pan America Cup, which were being staged in Puerto Rico.
Flying his country’s flag with pride, Afanador put up a valiant battle against tournament favourite and eventual champion, Hugo Calderano, however his campaign was far from forgotten. For he had captured the hearts and minds of both the world of table tennis and the world of music!