August 2008 rozinlapaz

The 2008 Beijing Olympics is a good time to look back to an earlier Olympics: Mexico won its first gold medals in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. The fascinating story behind that victory involves a one-eyed horse,FEAolympic1 the pope and a military officer who defied his president.

Six months before the London Olympics, Humberto Mariles Cortés and his equestrian team were preparing to leave for European competitions leading up to the Games. They had the funding and accreditation – all the arrangements had been made.

Then Mariles got a phone call from Mexico’s president, Miguel Alemán, who said: “You know, Lieutenant-Colonel, the trip is cancelled.”

Mariles was visibly shaken by the news: “Can I know why, Mr. President?” Alemán’s response: “You can’t win with these cart-pulling horses, with this one-eyed stallion.”

That one-eyed horse, “tuerto” in Spanish, was named Arete (Earring). He was a favourite of Mariles. The equestrian team defied the president and left for Italy. In Rome, Mexico’s ambassador was waiting with an order to FEAolympic3apprehend the men for disobeying orders, embezzlement, desertion and other charges. Still, they refused to return to Mexico.

A visit with Pope Pius XII, who came to watch the Mexicans ride, and the equestrian team’s success in the European events may have helped their cause with Alemán. In London, the team triumphed. Mariles won gold medals for individual and team jumping. He also received a bronze medal in the three-day team event. And President Alemán sent a message to Mariles congratulating him and his companions on their accomplishments on behalf of Mexico.

Sources of information for this feature come from 1990 edition of Mexican Olympic Medalists by Ramón Márquez and Armando Satow and the article “An Amazing Ride,” by Ricardo Castillo, in the July/August edition of online publication Inside Mexico.

(originally published August 2008)