Costa Rica's biggest sports stars (not named Keylor Navas)

Navas is great, but he's far from the only Costa Rican sports hero.

You can’t spend a day in Costa Rica without spotting a Keylor Navas jersey. The goalkeeper became a household name during the magical 2014 World Cup run and has continued to impress with mega-clubs Real Madrid and PSG. 

Just yesterday, Navas stopped a Lionel Messi penalty kick to help his club reach the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. 

Navas may be one of the world’s best goalkeepers, but he’s far from the only Costa Rican sports hero. Here are a few Ticos you might recognize — and some you might not. 

Rafael Ángel Pérez 

Who he was: A long-distance runner. 

What he did: He won the 1974 Saint Silvester Road Race, Brazil’s oldest and most prestigious run. Pérez also (briefly) held the world record in the half marathon after his 1:03.46 finish in Puerto Rico in 1976.

Pérez died in April 2019 at 72.

Claudia and Silvia Poll 

Who they are: Swimmers. 

What they did: Claudia Poll was the first (and only) Costa Rican athlete to win an Olympic Gold Medal. She achieved the feat in the 200 meter freestyle at Atlanta 1996.

Claudia was named Costa Rica’s Athlete of the Twentieth Century and was feted as 1997 World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine. Watch her medal-winning performance below:

Eight years earlier, Silvia Poll, Claudia’s older sister, became the first Costa Rican to ever medal at the Olympics. She placed second in the women’s 200 meter freestyle at Seoul 1988.

To this day, the Poll sisters comprise the totality of Costa Rica’s four Olympic medals.

Hanna Gabriels

Who she is: A professional boxer 

What she does: She is a two-weight world champion and is still regarded among the top active light middleweight boxers in the world. She also collaborates with the United Nations Refugee Agency to support women’s empowerment and fight gender violence.

Nery Brenes 

Who he is: A sprinter 

What he did: Regarded as Costa Rica’s best-ever runner, Brenes won gold in the 400 meters at the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships, setting a new world record in the process.

Brenes also won gold in the 400 m at the 2011 Pan American Games.

The soccer stars

Of course, Costa Rica has its share of fútbol phenoms. Here are three standouts:

Shirley Cruz: Arguably most successful modern Central American player, Cruz has won six French titles and two UEFA Champions Leagues, in addition to captaining La Sele at its lone Women’s World Cup appearance in 2015.

Paulo Wanchope: In addition to his successful career in England (who can forget his “wonder goal” against Manchester United?), Wanchope was a decorated striker with the national team, helping La Sele reach the 2002 and 2006 Men’s World Cups.

Alejandro Morera Soto: Known as the “magician” and the “Costa Rican phenomenon,” the striker was a prolific goal-scorer at Alajuelense and with FC Barcelona in a lengthy career that ended in 1947.  


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