US alternate Christina Cruz will represent Puerto Rico at Olympic qualifiers
When Christina Cruz finished second in the U.S. trials last year, it looked to be the end of her Olympic dream. She would be the flyweight alternate, behind Virginia Fuchs, but that meant she wouldn’t compete in Tokyo unless some unforeseen scenario took place.
But when she was contacted by the Puerto Rico Boxing Federation and invited to compete for a spot on their national team, it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“Being on Team USA I was selected as Olympic alternate, which is a huge accomplishment and I’m very proud of myself. But it’s something that couldn’t be settled for,” said Cruz, a native of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, and one of the most accomplished female amateurs in U.S. history.
The 37-year-old is a ten-time New York Golden Gloves champion – a tournament record – and earned bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 World Championships. At the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic trials, she placed third each time.
Cruz was one of three flyweights competing in the Puerto Rico nationals this past February, and wound up getting a bye for her first fight. She then beat the reigning champion to earn a spot in the Americas qualifier. That competition was supposed to begin on March 26 in Argentina, but was postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the Olympics themselves were postponed, with the International Olympic Committee saying they’d likely be rescheduled for some time between June and September of 2021, throwing preparations for the athletes further into disarray.
“A little heartbroken but it doesn’t take away from anything,” said Cruz about the postponement. “Training is obviously different right now, this situation has affected the way that I train but has not affected me from not being able to train. It is a mindset shift right now but I’m still going for it.”
Cruz had been training with the Puerto Rico national team in Salinas, Puerto Rico before flying back stateside to Ohio. She’s staying in shape by training wherever she can – in the streets, or a general fitness gym.
In order to switch affiliation to Puerto Rico, Cruz says there was “a lot of paperwork that had to get done, almost like making a trade in the NBA or something.” She needed to first obtain a release from Team USA, then had to be accepted by Puerto Rico, and then get final approval from the IOC, which she says came about three weeks ago.
It’s not uncommon for American boxers to represent their ancestral homelands at the Olympics, with Andre Berto and Richardson Hitchins representing Haiti in 2004 and 2016, respectively, and Teofimo Lopez representing Honduras in 2016, among other examples.
Puerto Rico has won nine medals since its first appearance at the Summer Olympics in 1948, with six of those coming in boxing. The last boxing medal came in 1996, when Daniel Santos earned bronze in the men’s welterweight division. If Cruz is able to qualify, she would become the first female boxer to represent Puerto Rico at the Olympics, which she says would be a great honor.
“My family, they’re proud Puerto Ricans. I grew up Puerto Rican in New York City, Nuyorican. I grew up eating the food and listening to the music. Growing up they would always talk to me about the history of Puerto Rico and now I have the opportunity to be a part of that history and it’s really exciting,” said Cruz.
“When I think about representing Puerto Rico, I think about my grandparents. They raised me with my dad, it’s just really exciting. I wish they were here to see that.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected]