Dec. 11, 2012
CULLOWHEE, N.C. - Qualifying for the Colombian National Games over the summer, senior Catamount tennis player Karen Jiménez Sarmiento represented her state, or department as it is called in Colombia, of Cundinamarca in the 2012 Colombian National Games. Cundinamarca is in central Colombia with the country's capital of Bogotá D.C. located at its center.
The Colombian National Games is an event held every four years which pits the states in the South American country of Colombia against each other. Athletes are selected from within the states - all under the age of 21 - to participate in a variety of sports such as basketball, skating, and in Karen Jiménez Sarmiento's case - tennis.
It was the second time the Bogotá D.C., native participated in the event as she played as a recent high school graduate four years ago. With the age limit dropping to 18-and-under for the next games, Jiménez Sarmiento will be one of the last to have participated twice.
The 2012 Colombian National Games were held in the eastern part of the country in Cúcuta, the capital of the state of Norte de Santander with the games spanning October 30th to November 12th. Set up much like the Olympics, the games included opening ceremonies where each participant walked in behind their home state's flag.
"This experience was one of the best I've ever had," said Jiménez Sarmiento. "It was my dream to represent my state and to give to my state and the sport that have given me so much. It meant a lot because it's my culture."
In tennis, Cundinamarca has not historically been known to excel, having never won a tennis medal in the National Games. In 2012, Jiménez Sarmiento and her team - consisting of four men and four women - broke that streak. Though the state had not done well in the past, her team felt confident.
"We expected to win a medal because we knew we were ready," described Jiménez Sarmiento. "The other teams had really good players, but we knew we would do well."
Tennis at the National Games consists of a draw that pits one state versus another with the winning team advancing with 32 states participating. Each match featured singles matches, doubles matches and mixed double matches. Jimenez played singles and also doubles, winning her singles match but falling in doubles. Jimenez and Cundinamarca defeated Meta and Boyacá en route to winning the state's first medal in tennis - the bronze - to finish third overall.
"It meant so much to me to be a part of the Games a second time. The sport of tennis is growing in my country and I am excited about the direction that it is going with a lot of good professional players representing my country on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals)Tour and the ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association)."
In fact, one of Jiménez Sarmiento's Cundinamarca teammates plays across the Tennessee border at East Tennessee State University.
Western Carolina head tennis coach Chris Wollett described the impact of Jimenez's participation in the tournament by saying, "It's an incredible honor to be asked to represent your state. It says a lot about Karen and the hard work and effort that she puts in. It also meant a lot to the team. They were all very excited about the opportunity that Karen had."
WCU opens its 2013 season at home against Coastal Carolina on Feb. 1.