San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Big stars, great shows at National Stadium

It will be tough to top the star-studded list of entertainment and sports figures that visited Costa Rica in 2011. Some of the planet’s premier music stars and most-lauded soccer players visited San José, making this year one of the best in entertainment. 

Proof is found in the lineup of music stars that took the stage, waived the national flag and roused the masses by yelling ¡“pura vida, Costa Rica”! Rock legends Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Slayer and Whitesnake jammed here. Pop sensations Shakira, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Lila Downs, Fito Páez, Juan Luis Guerra, the Jonas Brothers and teen celebrity Miley Cyrus drew mammoth crowds. Stars in different genres, such a reggae-funk wailer Damien Marley, also visited Costa Rica. 

The banner year wasn’t solely confined to music. In fútbol, some of the world’s best teams and players came to town to square off against La Sele, Costa Rica’s national soccer team. In March, two-time World Cup champion Argentina visited, followed by five-time World Cup winner Brazil in October and reigning 2010 World Cup victor Spain in November. 

During the matches, soccer greats Ronaldinho of Brazil and Spanish stars Iker Casillas, David Villa, and Andrés Iniesta took the field in Costa Rica for the first time. In a comical charade that had national media buzzing, Argentine star Lionel Messi, considered by many to be the world’s best player, did not play in a much-anticipated March 29 match. Messi refused to speak with press and sat stone-faced throughout the duration of the listless 0-0 tie. 

“We were told Messi would play, and he is whom we paid to see,” said spectator Federico Vargas, clad in an Argentine jersey with Messi’s number. “I just wish they would have been honest with us from the beginning. If we hadn’t anticipated he would play, we wouldn’t have been so disappointed.”

Shows at National Stadium Supplement 1

After 20 years of performing at venues around the world, rock superstars Pearl Jam finally included Costa Rica in its 2011 tour schedule. Some 30,000 fans turned out for the November show at San José’s National Stadium. Courtesy of Mass Media Int

So what was it that attracted such big names to Costa Rica in 2011? The answer can be found on the west side of San José’s La Sabana Park, where the new, sleek, mammoth National Stadium opened on March 26. Deemed the “Jewel of La Sabana,” the 35,000-seat National Stadium, a $100 million gift from the Chinese government, unquestionably made its presence felt during the final eight months of the year. 

“Eddie Vedder was standing right over me, applauding the audience, bleeding from his left hand,” said Don Stockwell, head of concert promoter RPMTV, about the Nov. 20 Pearl Jam concert. “He looked down at me and winked, and I looked out at the audience and saw 30,000 people cheering and screaming.”

Ticos Make It Big on International Stage

While Costa Rican team successes were limited in 2011, several Ticos captivated the country with memorable performances. 

Costa Rica’s top feel-good sports story this year was Hanna Gabriel, who successfully defended her World Boxing Organization’s junior middleweight title on two occasions in 2011. During the inaugural week of the National Stadium, Gabriel, who posed for pictures with President Laura Chinchilla in the ring before the fight, knocked-out U.S. rival Melisenda Pérez in the seventh round on March 31. After the fight, Gabriel, who has been elevated to national heroine status, received a standing ovation that lasted nearly 10 minutes. 

Sprinter Nery Brenes also shined in 2011. At the Pan-American Games in October in Guadalajara, Mexico, Brenes won gold in the 400-meter run. Brenes’ triumph was the first gold medal won by a Tico in 20 years and the only gold medal Costa Rica won at the competition. In 2012, Brenes has his sights set on the summer Olympic Games in London.

An unexpected star was born in Costa Rican cycling in 2011, as Andrey Amador was the first Tico to compete in the prestigious Tour de France. After injuring his ankle on the first day of the month-long race, Amador became the first Central American cyclist to complete the competition on July 24. Amador finished in 166th place and was treated as a national hero upon his return to Costa Rica. 

In soccer, 19-year-old sensation Joel Campbell, who starred for Costa Rica in the Copa America in Argentina and the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia in July, was signed in August by English club Arsenal, one of the world’s premier teams. Campbell’s signing was considered one of the most prestigious in national history. 

Painful Losses

Two tragedies shook Costa Rican sports and entertainment this year. 

On Aug. 29, Costa Rica lost one if its most beloved musical voices when Fidel Gamboa, singer, multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter of the popular national band Malpaís, died of a heart attack. Malpaís band member and Costa Rican Culture Minister Manuel Obregón said that Gamboa’s death was “a great loss for the country. We will always remember [Gamboa’s] great artistic works, which represent what it means to be Costa Rican.”

Gamboa was 50. On Nov. 18, more than 33,000 fans attended the band’s farewell concert at the National Stadium.

“We don’t want to end the Malpaís journey without saying farewell to the fans,” said Jaime Gamboa, Fidel’s brother and composer of several Malpaís songs. “We also want to pay our own homage to Fidel independently of what the group may do in the future.”

On June 23, Dennis Marshall, a member of La Sele, died in a car accident at age 25.

Marshall’s wife was also killed when their car collided head-on with a truck on the Braulio Carrillo Highway that connects the capital to Limón on the Caribbean coast. In his final game days before his death, Marshall played a spectacular match, scoring Costa Rica’s lone goal in the team’s shootout loss to Honduras in the Gold Cup quarterfinals. 

“He was a young boy with much to come in the future, loved for his personality, his character,” said Ricardo La Volpe, the national team’s coach at the time. “It’s a shame to see his life end at such a young age.”

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