We know all about Olympians from San Diego competing for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, but what about athletes with local ties competing for other countries? We take look at three athletes doing just that in Tokyo.
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First, there’s Isalys Quinones, a basketball player with deep ties to Chula Vista competing for Team Puerto Rico. Then, there’s Sashel Palacios, the catcher for Team Mexico at the Tokyo Olympics – also with deep ties to San Diego County’s South Bay.
Then, there’s Anastasya Gorbenko, an Israeli swimmer who moved to San Diego to train to better improve her chances at making it to the Olympics. And it worked.
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Isalys Quinones: Team Puerto Rico
Basketball player Isalys Quinones, 23, grew up in Chula Vista and started playing basketball at the South Bay YMCA when she was only 5 years old.
She went to Joseph Casillas Elementary School in Chula Vista and then Otay Ranch High School where she played varsity basketball. Her parents were both born and raised in Puerto Rico.
She told NBC 7 a family friend connected her to Puerto Rico’s federation when they heard she was 6-foot-3. The rest is history.
“And that’s pretty much all they needed to know because, notoriously, Puerto Ricans aren’t tall,” Quinones said. Today, Quinones plays basketball professionally and is competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
Sashel Palacios: Team Mexico
Softball standout Sashel Palacios, 25, was born and raised in Chula Vista. The community is known for producing great athletes on the diamond.
“I just think we’re gritty,” Palacios told NBC 7 San Diego. “I played for a rec league called Bonita Valley All-Stars. We were always top-notch and had great coaches.”
Palacios is the catcher for Mexico. She graduated from Otay Ranch High School in 2013 – two years before Quinones graduated, from the very same school.
“I’m just so grateful for where I grew up,” Palacios said.
Anastasya Gorbenko: Team Elite
Israeli swimmer Anastasya Gorbenko, 17, moved to San Diego County to train and improve her chances of making it to the Olympics.
It did, as now she’s competing for Israel at the Tokyo Olympics.
Gorbenko joined a professional swim group coached by 2016 U.S. Olympic coach David Marsh. She was only 14 years old at the time.
“I was scared and young,” she recalled.
Gorbenko is one of eight swimmers on Team Elite to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The team trains out of Coronado Island in San Diego County and are representing five different countries, including Gorbenko representing Israel.
“It’s a good group – everything from Russia to Greece to Israel, Germany – so, we have a good, broad spectrum,” she added.
Marsh is also serving as the Israeli swim coach in Tokyo and said San Diego should be the mecca for swimming – with its weather and connection to the water.
He routinely cross-trains his swimmers in the ocean with surf days - which worked out well during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Gorbenko said she’s hooked on training in San Diego.
San Diego – a launchpad for Olympians – not just for Team USA but for countries around the world.