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Meet Constantin Henriquez, the First Black Olympian

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You might not have heard of Constantin Henriquez because he participated in sports in the 19th century. He wrote a piece of history that isn’t widely talked about but is important to the discourse around acknowledging black success. Henriquez played multiple sports: rugby, long jump and football. Here’s his story.

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Constantin Henriquez’ Sporting Exploits

Review of Constantin Henriquez’ life. Video Credit: Haïti Culture et Perspectives

Henriquez was born in Haiti but his exact date of birth remains unknown. In 1893, his father, who worked as a politician, sent him to France for studies. He joined medicine school, where he came across rugby. This wasn’t his first sport. He was a pole vault champion at his university in Haiti.

When he started playing rugby, Henriquez learned the game quickly and could play multiple positions. Rugby was a game that offered him much more in strength, endurance, physical challenge and speed.

In 1985, he reached the final of the French domestic competition with Olympique, a rugby club that almost folded but merged with Racing Club de France. In 1986, he never made the Olympic team that represented the country in the Olympics. However, he never gave up.

He got registered with the Union of French Athletic Sports Societies (USFSA), later the French Rugby Union, the body in charge of selecting Olympic players. 

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Going to the Olympics

In 1900, the USFSA selected players who represented France at the Olympics. The team would face Germany and England. The players who made the team played for the Stade Français, the Racing Club de France and the Cosmopolitan Club. Henriquez played for the Stade Français and achieved more success with the team.

France defeated England 27-8 and Germany 27-17 to win the gold medal at the 1900 Olympics. This made Constantin Hernandez the first black man to win an Olympic medal. The following year, he won the championship with Stade Français.

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Life Post-Rugby

After his heroics at national and club victories, Henriquez moved back to his home country, Haiti. He dedicated his time to growing the game by introducing it to people. He also talked about other sports he’d played, like football. 

The rugby player reportedly guided Olympic silver medalist Sylvio Cator in the long jump, who set a world record of 7.93 meters. He also trained André Théard, who participated in three Olympic games.

In line with his ambitions to grow sports in Haiti, he became the first president of the Haitian Olympic Committee. He was first elected in 1906 and then took over office in 1912. In 1942, Constantin Henriquez passed away.

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