Kings of speed
Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna went faster than anyone in Formula 1 history. Lionel Messi is the world’s top soccer player. And can anyone zoom to the summit faster than a Colombian cyclist? Latin Americans have stepped up their game.
Text: Ezequiel Fernández Moores | Ilustration: Álvaro Tapia
Latin America’s star athletes score goals, set records and win titles. And history bears witness to their many achievements. Argentinean Juan Carlos Zabala was a pioneer in track and field. “El Ñandú Criollo” learned to run in an orphanage, and in 1936, he set world records in the indoor 10,000 meters (31:05.2) and 20,000 meters (1:04:00.2). Three decades later, Cuba jumped into the sport at full speed: in 1967, Enrique Figureola matched the world record in the 100 meters (10 seconds), which was surpassed by his fellow countryman Silvio Leonard in 1975 (9.9 seconds). This era of track and field was marked by notable figures like Alberto Juantorena: in 1976 and 1977, “El Caballo” (The Horse) was the fastest living human in the 800 meters (1:43.50 and 1:43.44, respectively), a record that was bested by Ana Fidelia Quirot two decades later.
Of course, for track athletes addicted to speed, the favorite event is the 100-meter dash. Latin America came really close to winning that particular race just nine years after the U.S. athlete Jesse Owens setting the world record (10.2 seconds) and reaching a top speed of 35.3 kilometers per hour. In 1945, Argentina’s Gerardo Bonhoff ran the race in 10.3 seconds, hitting a speed of 34.9 km/h. Today, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt holds the 100-meter record (9.58 seconds, 37.6 km/h). South America may have fallen behind, but our fastest time is still held by Brazilian Robson da Silva, a great champion from the 1980s and 90s, whose 10-second record (36 km/h) is unbeaten in the region.
The fastest Latin American dribbler is second on FIFA’s list: Mexican Jürgen Damm, who plays for Pachuca. In third place is Antonio Valencia (Ecuador), who plays for Manchester United (35.1 km/h). Messi is seventh (32.5 km/h), one spot behind Cristiano Ronaldo (33.6 km/h).
But Messi is king because soccer isn’t just about getting to the ball first. It’s about being able to stop on a dime. It’s about misdirection and pace, managing time and space. You need to know how to deal with unforeseen events, and the Rosario native handles the unexpected like no one else.
Start Your Engines
In 1992, the formidable Ayrton Senna pushed his McLaren-Hondato 253.9 km/h.
The first Latin American driver to earn worldwide acclaim in auto racing was Argentina’s legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, a five-time Formula 1 champion between 1951 and 1957. Seldom has a driver pushed things so close to the limit. Over 11 laps, Fangio beat the track record for speed six times. He had secured pole position with a time of 9:25.6 (145.2 km/h), but later in the race, Fangio had to rev up the pace to compensate for time lost in changing the tires of his Maserati. The 28-second advantage he earned during the first part of the race wasn’t enough. With the clutch to his left and the brake and accelerator to his right, plus a five-speed gearshift, Fangio put the pedal to the metal with an average speed of 240 km/h. Two laps from the final, he passed the last Ferrari and won his fifth world title.
In Monza, Italy, a temple to F1 speed, Fangio pushed his Ferrari to a record-breaking 132.9 km/h in 1956. Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi, a two-time F1 champion in 1972 and 1974, broke the record with a Lotus-Coswoth, hitting 217.3 km/h in 1972. And in 1992, the formidable Ayrton Senna – a three-time F1 winner, also from Brazil – reached 253.9 km/h in his McLaren-Honda. Like Fangio in his legendary Nürburgring race, Senna used subtle bursts of acceleration in an unforgettable performance at the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril. In a downpour, he maintained a 1.5-second advantage over his rivals from the outset. Only nine of the original 26 cars finished the race, and Senna’s Lotus lapped nearly all his competitors.
Straight to the Top
Colombian Nairo Quintana is the fourthfastest cyclist in history.
Colombia, on the other hand, is more of a power in cycling. Following in the tradition of legendary names like Martín “Cochise” Rodríguez, Lucho Herrera and Fabio Parra – to name a few – the great Nairo Quintana now shines. He won the 2014 Giro d’Italia at 39.044 km/h, the fourth fastest time in history. Colombian cyclists are well accustomed to mountainous terrain, and Nairo got into shape at a young age. He used to tow his sister on her bike every time they came home from school, and riding his same 26-pound bicycle. Just like Fangio, Senna, Maradona, Messi, Cielo and all the other great athletes of our region, more than good nutrition, discipline, science and technology, it was passion that gave Nairo the strength to ride faster than anyone else. in