In a stunning victory in Beijing on Tuesday, “whiz kid” Henry Cejudo won the Olympic gold medal for the United States in the 121-pound freestyle wrestling final. He defeated Tomohiro Matsunaga of Japan to give the United States its 125th Olympic wrestling medal and its 50th gold wrestling medal. At age 21, Cejudo is also the youngest American to win an Olympic wrestling gold medal.
The son of undocumented Mexican immigrants, Cejudo’s story is an illustration of a dream achieved. His father died at a young age and his family moved from apartment to apartment in city after city. In Phoenix, Cejudo and his older brother entered a youth wrestling program. When his brother eventually was invited to an Olympic training center, Cejudo went with him and won two state titles, clinching the national senior championship before leaving high school. The fact that he won an Olympic gold medal without wrestling in college and competing in only one world championship prior is a rare feat. The U.S. national freestyle coach, Kevin Jackson, ranks him among the best U.S. wrestlers ever.
Cejudo is one of the growing number of immigrants sporting U.S. uniforms at the 2008 Olympics. This year, there are 33 foreign-born athletes on the team, compared to 27 in 2004. They include four Chinese-born table tennis players, a kayaker from Britain, a Russian-born gymnast—Nastia Liukin, who took home the silver medal in the uneven bars—and seven members of the track and field team. The United States isn’t alone, either. Canada, with a fairly open immigration policy, expected to have more than 50 immigrant athletes at this year’s games.
These athletes represent yet another way in which immigrants contribute to our country—from participating in our economy, to serving in the military, to excelling in sports. America’s history boasts generation after generation of foreign-born citizens who have come and been provided with opportunities to work, serve, and make a life for themselves and their families. It is important that we continue this tradition of welcoming immigrants and allowing them to give something back. Cejudo’s victory reminds us of how important immigrants are to America’s success.
"I’m proud of my Mexican heritage," Cejudo said after winning his medal. "But I’m an American. It’s the best country in the world. They call it the land of opportunity, and it is. Maybe if some other kid watches this, he can do the same."