It’s almost fitting that Mexico has won its only medal of the Rio Games as the result of a loss.
Middleweight Misael Rodriguez dropped Thursday’s semifinal bout to Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuziev, securing a bronze medal since there are no third-place matches at the Olympics.
Despite the anti-climactic nature of the award, Rodriguez’s achievement stands alone among Mexican athletes at these Rio Olympics. And if no one else from the country’s delegation of 125 athletes medals in the closing days, Mexico will head home with its lowest medal count — one — since the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
There’s more at play than just underachieving athletes here. As detailed in the Washington Post and Quartz, Mexico’s athletes have been the victim of a powerplay between the country’s federal sports agency (CONADE) and the individual federations that oversee each sport. Determined to cut corruption in each branch, CONADE chief Alfredo Castillo cut funding to many of the sports, including boxing. As a result, boxers like Rodriguez had to board buses and beg for change to raise money to travel to 2016. (It was also reported that Rodriguez had to buy his own uniform on credit.)
Mexico has never been an Olympics powerhouse. The most medals it has ever won at a single Summer Games was nine at the 1968 Games that were held in Mexico City. The country has only won 13 gold medals in its history, well behind the 23 that Michael Phelps has collected the past 12 years.
Still, the 2016 output has been discouraging to Mexicans after it took home a relatively high total of seven medals from the 2012 London Games. Those Olympics were marked by the countrywide celebration sparked by the soccer team defeating Brazil in the gold medal match and a strong effort from the country’s divers and archers.
The 2016 Games haven’t seen anywhere near that level of success, however. The soccer team didn’t make it past the group stage with a 1-1-1 record and the most international press the country’s delegation got before Rodriguez was a story about a Mexican gymnast being bodyshamed on Twitter.
Where does Mexico’s Olympic movement go from here? Well, it seems like it needs to figure out this whole Castillo thing. He’s been the target of public scorn these past few weeks, drawing criticism for attending the Opening Ceremony with a female companion who was wearing the same outfit as the athletes. He was also mocked for attending a Novak Djokovic match instead of an event involving Mexican athletes and his Thursday tweet congratulating Rodriguez was met with plenty of responses that basically said “thanks for nothing.”
There’s a Change.org petition calling for Castillo’s removal that currently has over 17,000 signatures.