Why Does Puerto Rico Have an Olympic Team? U.S. Territory Wins First Tokyo 2020 Medal

Puerto Rico won its first Tokyo 2020 medal on Monday, earning a gold medal at the women's 100-meter hurdles final. The win by Jasmine Camacho-Quinn marked Puerto Rico's first Olympic gold medal in athletics.

As Puerto Rico celebrates its historic win, some may have wondered why it has its own Olympic team separate from Team USA, even though it is a U.S. territory.

Puerto Rico has its own Olympic team because the International Olympic Committee, which is the only authority that can recognize a National Olympic Committee (NOC), sees Puerto Rico's NOC as a separate entity from that of the U.S.

According to the Olympic Charter, the IOC is "the supreme authority of the Olympic Movement."

The Olympic Movement includes the IOC as well as the International Sport Federations (IFs), NOCs and the Organizing Committees of the Olympic Games (OCOGs).

"Any person or organization belonging in any capacity whatsoever to the Olympic Movement is bound by the provisions of the Olympic Charter and shall abide by the decisions of the IOC," the Olympic Charter states.

"The authority of last resort on any question concerning the Olympic Games rests with the IOC," according to the charter.

Puerto Rico's Olympic History

According to the Tokyo 2020 website, the IOC has recognized Puerto Rico's NOC (the Comité Olímpico de Puerto Rico) since January 1948.

The Puerto Rican Olympic team made its debut at the London 1948 Games with an all-male team competing in three sports. Juan Venegas won its first Olympic medal that year with a bronze in the men's bantamweight boxing competition, according to the Tokyo 2020 website.

Before Tokyo 2020, the team won a total of nine medals across 18 Olympic Games and until the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, all of the team's medal wins were in boxing, including a silver in the lightweight category at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

All other medal wins in boxing have been bronze, according to the Tokyo 2020 website.

In 2012, Puerto Rico bagged its second silver medal, finishing second in the men's 84-kilogram freestyle wrestling event, and its first-ever medal in an athletics event, scoring a bronze in the men's 400-meter hurdles competition.

Puerto Rico earned its first gold medal at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, winning the women's singles tennis tournament, reports the Tokyo 2020 website.

Jasmine Camacho-Quinn at Tokyo 2020.
Puerto Rico's Jasmine Camacho-Quinn celebrates winning a gold medal in the women's 100-meter hurdles final on August 2 at Tokyo 2020. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Is Puerto Rico Part of the U.S.?

Puerto Rico is an "unincorporated organized territory of the US with local self-government," according to The World Factbook published at the Central Intelligence Agency website.

It is officially known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917. They are U.S. citizens but do not vote in U.S. presidential elections, according to the CIA website.

From 1948 the territory has had popularly elected governors. The CIA website says Puerto Rico has a "republican form of government", with separate executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Policy relations between Puerto Rico and the U.S. are "conducted under the jurisdiction of the Office of the President," the CIA website explains.

In 1952, a constitution was enacted in Puerto Rico, which allowed for "internal self-government," according to the CIA website.

In a letter sent in October 1952 by Vernon D. Northrop (who was the country's Acting Secretary of the Interior at the time) to the U.S. Secretary of State, he wrote: "Puerto Rico has not become an independent nation; neither has it become a State of the Union. It remains a territory of the United States."

According to the CIA website: "In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose not to alter the existing political status with the US, but the results of a 2012 vote left open the possibility of American statehood.

"A referendum held in late 2020 showed a narrow preference for American statehood," the website says.