South American Superstars
In machismo Peru, football rules. But two female athletes, a boxer and a surfer, have become the latest athletic superstars.
The crowds go wild. Super featherweight boxer Kina Malpartida Dyson and sun-kissed surfer Sofia Mulanovich can’t go anywhere in Peru without getting hoarded.
Just five years ago, neither boxing nor surfing garnered the attention of media or fans, but by now these national heroes have become two of the biggest names in Peruvian sporting history. Kina, 29, and Sofia, 26, both hail from the same small beach town
of Punta Hermosa in southern Lima, and both excel at traditionally male-dominated sports.
With Peru’s lackluster performances in the international sporting arena—the country has only four Olympic medals and hasn’t qualified for the World Cup in soccer since 1982—the attention these women have earned is spawning enthusiasm and energy in this nation of 29.5 million that was riddled with terrorism and corruption throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
“Kina and Sofia made us believe in our athletes again,” says Talia Echecopar, who is writing a book about Sofia’s surfing stardom. In 2004, Sofia, then 21, became the first Latin American—man or woman—to win the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Championship title, and at press time she ranked third in this year’s ASP tour standings and in career earnings.
Before Sofia became the world champ, there were only four surf schools in Peru and hardly any other women surfed. But now surfing makes the news almost every day, and there are over 60 surf schools in operation, mostly filled with female students. “We call it the ‘Sofia Fenomeno,’” says Jose de Col, a two-time Peruvian surfing champion.
The “Kina Fenomeno” is also in the midst of a boom. Kina’s defending fight for the Super Featherweight World Championship against Brazilian Halana Dos Santos in June attracted the largest single TV audience in Peru’s viewing history.
“There are few countries in the world where the most respected athletes, the role models, all happen to be women,” Gabriela Perez de Solar, a Peruvian congresswoman and former Olympic volleyball player, told Time magazine.
“It goes beyond surfing and boxing,” Echecopar adds. “The women’s volleyball team is on a winning streak, and a female cinematographer, Claudia Llosa, just won the Golden Bear [a prestigious international film award].
“Peruvians are so passionate to victories,” Echecopar continues. “When Sofía competes in Peru or Kina fights here, Peru becomes all one. It’s really beautiful. We are such a multiracial country that we need those things to unify our differences.”