As Eddy Alvarez proudly waved the American Flag on Friday in Tokyo, you could see the whirlwind of emotion in his eyes.
Alvarez, a 31-year-old minor-league baseball shortstop and the son of Cuban immigrants, had to hold back tears as he described the honor of representing the nation at the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
“Just to get the honor to represent the United States of America, to hold the flag — the symbol of liberty, of freedom — my family came over to this country from Cuba in search of opportunity, and if it wasn’t for them doing that, I wouldn’t be in the position that I am now,” he told the hosts on the “Today” show.
For Alvarez, a 2014 Olympic silver medalist in speed skating, the privilege represents the fruition of his American dream. “Being a first-generation Cuban-American, my story represents the American Dream. My family has sacrificed so much for me to have the opportunity to wave this flag proudly.”
Alvarez and four-time Olympic basketball gold medalist Sue Bird led their teammates into an opening ceremony unlike any other.
In unprecedented fashion, the Olympians weren’t greeted by cheering onlookers in the stands. Instead, the athletes could hear the loud noises of Japanese protesters outside the stadium. Yet, the protests were the last thing on Alvarez’s mind as he carried the stars and stripes with pride.
The Real Life American Dream for Eddy Alvarez
“I owe so much to my parents, to my family,” Alvarez said in a video when he was asked how he felt about the honor. “It means,” the player bega, trying to gather his composure, “everything to me.”
He added: “I came over to this country, so to be able to lead Team USA is an absolute honor. It was a lot of sacrifices I’ve had to make in this life in my athletic career.”
He added, “I’m just absolutely incredibly honored, and what a privilege.”
Alvarez has been training for this moment since he was a kid. He grew up speed skating and playing baseball, which has since paid off for him. He took home the silver medal in the 5,000-meter short-track speed skating relay in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
During an interview with the Miami Herald, he confessed he hopes to bring home gold in Tokyo and be one of the few competitors to bring home medals in both the summer and winter games.
“When you’re so close to winning, and you have to stand on the podium and listen to someone else’s anthem, it leaves just a little bit of that bittersweet feeling,” he said.
“This trip is like a second chance. I’m going with this to absolutely leave it on the field.”