15 Apr 2021

Now just under 100 days to go before the torch is lit at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Friday 23rd July, cousins Brian Afanador and Melanie Diaz can look forward to a memorable occasion dressed proudly in Puerto Rican uniforms.

On Wednesday 14th April in Rosario, alongside Argentina’s Horacio Cifuentes and Chile’s Paulina Vega, both emerged successful at the Latin American Singles and Mixed Doubles Qualification tournament.

by Ian Marshall

Accounting for Guatemala’s Mabelyn Enriquez, the no.6 seed (11-4, 13-11, 11-4, 11-8), before recovering from the brink of defeat against the no.15 seed from Cuba, Daniela Fonseca Carrazana (7-11, 13-11, 9-11, 9-11, 14-12, 11-3, 11-6), Melanie Diaz rewrote the history books.

She joins younger sibling Adriana in Tokyo, who qualified in 2019 by winning the women’s singles title at the Pan American Games in Lima. Thus, in the table tennis events at an Olympic Games, they follow Veronika Pavlovich and Viktoria Pavlovich to become the second ever sisters to compete in the women’s singles competition and the first sisters to be present at the same Games.

“I’m super happy, this has been my dream since I started playing.” Melanie Diaz

An Olympic Games debut for Melanie Diaz, for Brian Afanador it is a second, he competed in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. On the second day of action, the no.5 seed, he accounted for Mexico’s Marcos Madrid, the no.3 seed (11-7, 11-7, 7-11, 11-9, 11-7), before emerging successful by the very narrowest of margins when facing Cuba’s Jorge Campos (9-11, 11-4, 11-4, 9-11, 11-9, 7-11, 11-9).

Notably, the Cuban no.13 seed was a player in form, the previous day in straight games, he had ousted Paraguay’s Marcelo Aguirre, the top seed (11-8, 11-5, 11-6, 11-7).

“It feels amazing, it is something inexplicable. During the pandemic, my dad and I were working in a small room that he made, we never stopped training, we always did everything possible to qualify for these Olympic Games.” Brian Afanador

Impressive performances but if there was one player who impressed it was Horacio Cifuentes. Good form at the recent World Table Tennis (WTT) tournaments in Doha, when he beat the likes of Russia’s Sadi Ismailov and Slovakia’s Lubomir Pistej, closer to home, he maintained that form.

Moment of triumph for Horacio Cifuentes (Photo courtesy of organising committee)

Never extended beyond five games, the no.2 seed, he accounted for Chile’s Juan Lamadrid, the no.8 seed (11-4, 11-6, 11-9, 8-11, 11-5), prior to halting the aspirations of the Dominican Republic’s Wu Jiaji (11-7, 11-5, 13-11, 7-11, 11-6).

“There are no words. It is a unique feeling; I have never felt something like this in sport.” Horacio Cifuentes

Success for the second seed in the men’s singles event, the same in the women’s singles, as to some extent Chile’s Paulina Vega laid the gremlins of Rio de Janeiro in 2012 to rest. On that occasion in the contest for the very last place in the continental qualification tournament she experienced defeat by the very narrowest of margins when facing Venezuela’s Fabiola Ramos.

In Rosario, she made no mistake; she overcame the Dominican Republic’s Eva Brito, the no.7 seed (11-1, 13-11, 11-7, 12-14, 11-9) prior to securing her ticket to Tokyo by defeating Mexico’s Yadira Silva, the no.5 seed (11-1, 13-11, 11-7, 12-14, 11-9).

“I still cannot believe it. I have been trying for many years, this year was very difficult for everyone due to the pandemic, but I have had the support of my federation, of my coaches and I fought till the end.” Paulina Vega

At last for Paulina Vega (Photo courtesy of organising committee)

Having tried and tried again for what is now approaching two decades, it is the first time that Paulina Vega has qualified for a women’s singles event at an Olympic Games but her second appearance overall; in 2004 in Athens, she partnered Berta Rodriguez in the women’s doubles.

The second knock-out tournaments commences on Thursday 15th April; there are two men’s singles places available but only one for the women.

General News Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Brian Afanador Paulina Vega Melanie Diaz Horacio Cifuentes

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