Despite being known as a football-loving nation on the world stage, the republic of Peru, a Spanish-speaking country on the South American continent since the 1820s, has won the Olympian glory thanks to its international shooters, who have picked up a total of three medals in the Summer Games between 1948 and 1992. According to these results, unequivocally, the greatest Peruvian athlete is Edwin Vasquez Cam, an Olympic gold medalist.
Edwin Vasquez Cam
Edwin Vasquez Cam was born on July 28 1922, in Lima, Peru’s capital city. Encouraged by his father, who was a former shooter, he competed in several shooting competitions in Lima and other Peruvian cities. Over the next years, he spent several hours with his father, Mr. Gonzalo Vasquez, his coach and best friend. By 1938, Edwin won a school championship, but that was only the beginning.
When Edwin was only 18 years old, he finished first in the Gildelmeister Cup, a traditional event in Lima, defeating many veteran athletes. Since then, Edwin’s ambition was to become one of top shooters on Peruvian soil. The following year, he was crowned as the “best shooter” in a major contest. By latter the mid-1940s, Edwin won a gold at the Bolivarian Games at home after winning the Continental tournaments.
With limited international experience, by 1948, Edwin Vasquez and his fellow athletes made a travel to compete in the Olympics in the United Kingdom. The South American delegation competed in seven sports: athletics, men’s basketball, boxing, cycling, fencing, shooting, and weightlifting. In the British capital, on the other hand, nine shooters participated for Peru: Edwin, Cesar Injoque, Raul Valderrama, Wenceslao Salgado, Luis Mantilla, Froilan Tantalean, Enrique Mendizabal, and brothers Enrique and Guillermo Baldwin.
Peru’s champ Edwin Vasquez Cam became the first non-American/European shooter to win an Olympic title when he captured a gold in the Games of the XIV Olympiad in London, UK’s capital. In that day, on August 2, 1948, surprisingly Sweden’s marksman Torsten Ullman was beaten by Mr. Vasquez Cam. Ullman, gold medalist at the 1936 Olympics and four-time world champ (1933, 1935, 1937, & 1947), had been the favorite to win the gold in the free pistol in the Olympic Shooting Championship, a sporting event traditionally dominated by the United States and Western Europe since its inclusion in the First Games in 1896.
Edwin won with 545 points, followed by Switzerland’s Rudolph Schnyder (silver medal) and Ullman (bronze), both with 539 points. It was a day of national pride not only to Peru but also to the continent. Upon Vasquez’s win, the country became one of the first five Latin American republics to win an Olympic gold medal in the 20th Century, alongside Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico. But within few years he was forgotten despite his status like an Olympian winner.
Peru did not win any other Olympic medal until 1984 when Edwin Vasquez’s successor, Francisco -known as “Pancho”- Boza surprisingly was runner-up at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Prior to the international Games, he had been trained by Konrad Wirnhier, an Olympic gold medalist in 1972, in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Pan American Champion
Mr. Vasquez, upon winning the global title in Britain, helped his nation’s Olympic team to win a gold medal at the 1951 Pan American Games in Buenos Aires (Argentina), a world-class competition in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to these awards, he also earned many international contests.
Despite being one of the most high-profile athletes in Latin American and the Caribbean at that time, unfortunately, Mr. Vasquez and other members of the Peruvian squad, among them Julia Sanchez Deze (Pan American gold medalist in 1951), could not go to Helsinki (Finland) to participate in the Olympiad in 1952. For absurd reasons, Peru’s then-dictator Manuel Odria refused to send a national delegation to Scandinavia.
An Unknown Olympic Champion
Historically, Peru’s Olympic champ Edwin Vasquez is the only shooter from Latin America to have won an Olympic gold medal. In the last sixty years, the continent sent some notable shooters to the international Games, but none of them captured the Olympic glory. From 1972 to 1984, Helmut Bellingrodt -Colombia’s most outstanding athlete in 1974– won two silvers. In the meantime, Mexico’s Olegario Vasquez, upon winning a gold medal in the 1975 Pan American Games and set a new world record, failed to earn the Olympic competition at the 1976 Montreal Games. By 1988, Chile’s Alfonso de Iruarrizaga finished second in the Olympiad in Asia. At the 25th Olympiad in 1992, Peru’s athlete Juan Giha, whose coach Bruno Sarti did not go to Spain due to a lack of resources, came in second place.
Despite being the greatest Peruvian Olympian in history of this country’s sports, Edwin Vasquez Cam, unfortunately, is still a sporting figure unknown for millions of Peruvians. On March 9, 1993, unfortunately, he passed away. Ironically, his death was largely unnoticed by the national media. In a country that has not had an Olympic champ since 1948 and never world winners, he should be an important model for Peru’s boys and girls, paving the way for a new generation of champions.