Gracida, Memo

▪ 1999

      When Guillermo ("Memo") Gracida, Jr.'s Isla Carroll team lost the 1998 U.S. Polo Open, it ended Gracida's six-year Open winning streak and led to speculation that the 42-year-old legend may have finally passed his peak. Talk of Gracida's retirement had been unthinkable only a year earlier when he won his 15th U.S. Open in 20 years and was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame. As one of only a dozen or so top 10-goal-handicap players in the world, Gracida had an instinct for the game that had long seemed infallible—almost inhuman. Although his retirement still could be years away, in 1998 some polo fans already spoke of him as the greatest ever to have played the game.

      Gracida may have seemed the quintessential "natural" polo player, but his mastery of the game was neither a fluke nor casually achieved. Born in Mexico City in 1956, Gracida grew up on polo—his father, Guillermo ("Memo") Gracida, Sr., and uncles won the U.S. Open in 1946, and his cousins and younger brother Carlos all became distinguished professional polo players. The young Gracidas played on a rough polo practice field they nicknamed "La Luna" for its pockmarked surface, and the dedicated, almost obsessive Memo Jr. rarely traveled far from it. Such a polo-centred upbringing not only honed Gracida's considerable talent but also instilled in him the desire to keep vital the future of the sport. Later in his career he sought to pass along this desire, generously giving his time and expertise to the education of young polo players and the sponsorship of children's tournaments.

      In 1976 he and his father helped Mexico upset the U.S. in the Camacho Cup, and later that same year the younger Gracida moved to the U.S. One year after his American polo debut, he won his first U.S. Open, and by 1982 he was a 10-goal player. For the next 15 years he dominated the sport with a combination of smooth riding, seemingly effortless strokes, and, most of all, the sort of intangible, innate sense of the game exhibited by players who reach their sport's pantheon. During this period his titles included six World Cups, three USPA Gold Cups, two Camacho Cups, and the 1982 Argentine Open.

      The U.S. Open loss in 1998 may have been merely an off match for Gracida. If it did signal the beginning of a decline in his skills, it was clear that his record-breaking achievements and dignified sportsmanship—as well as his efforts to educate young polo players—had guaranteed that the mark he left on the game of polo would remain for generations.

LOCKE PETERSEIM

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Universalium. 2010.

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