Brent Latham: Gold medal matters to Mexican soccer

Despite the gripes of certain naysayers, the 2012 Olympic gold was a huge milestone for El Tri

Amusing. That’s the quickest way to respond to the comments of Ana Guevara -- one of Mexico’s most important athletes outside the realm of football.

Maybe she’s gotten tired of being categorized that way, since the silver medalist from the Athens Games decided to launch an unprovoked attack on the nation’s Gold Medal winning soccer team -- a group which has without a doubt overshadowed the 400 meter sprinter’s admirable accomplishments in the world of sport.

For those who missed it, Guevara this week categorized El Tri’s Olympic gold medal as lucky and unconvincing, saying that too much has been made of the accomplishment by Mexican press and football fans.

“It doesn’t convince me,” the now-Senator from Sonora said. “It’s a god medal, one that I don’t have, but you can’t compare it. If Mexico had been convincing and strong in the tournament, they would have won since the first game.”

Mexico tied its debut in England with South Korea, 1-1, but proceeded to advance through the knockout rounds all the way to the gold medal match, where El Tri topped Brazil, 2-1.

“Things worked out fortuitously for them,” Guevara said. “Spain went out, Argentina went out, Nigeria fell, Great Britain; all the countries that were expected to fight for medals. Brazil comes in vulnerable and the [medal] is achieved. It’s an important medal for the country, but it’s not important enough to say ‘starting now we’re going to blow up.’”

Um, what?

Unfortunately, more than amusing, these sorts of words represent the type of thinking that threatens to drag El Tri back into the abyss of the last decade, when everything was a struggle. Unfortunately, Guevara is a also a lawmaker, and probably represents a good portion of the population not particularly enamored by football.

As far as the Olympic team’s accomplishments, it’s pretty silly to underestimate the value to the nation of the triumph in London. Claiming that the draw lined up to Mexico’s favor is reasonable, but that’s never been a criteria for judging success in international football. You can’t beat opponents that don’t make it to the match to play you.

The Olympic Gold medal was a defining moment in Mexican football and sport. It represents a pinnacle of accomplishment not only for the game but for Mexican athletics in general, ushering in a new generation of young players who collectively set an example for Mexico as a country, by setting goals high and achieving on that highest level.

To try to take away from that in any way is to do a disservice for the sport and the country as a whole.

This episode is about more than just the jealousy of one former Olympic athlete. It’s a proxy for the crossroads at which Mexican football now stands. The powers that be in the sport have done all they can to move Mexican football forward. Now, they’re up against these hidden enemies, haters who would like to see the sport -- and its representative El Tri -- fail because other entities in Mexico will never be quite as popular.

The 2012 Olympic gold can serve as a beacon of better things to come, or as a one-time high forgotten as things return to their turbulent norm among bickering and infighting. The result will play out in coming years, and will say a lot about the direction in which Mexico is headed, both as footballing nation and a country in general.

In the long run, it’s sometimes not so easy to laugh off haters’ disruptive actions as it is their words.