Home / Beyond  / Notable Costa Ricans: Claudia Poll

Notable Costa Ricans: Claudia Poll

The most successful Costa Rican athlete in history was born in Nicaragua in 1972. Claudia María Poll Ahrens, is the daughter of German immigrants, who decided to move their family to Costa Rica in 1979,

Claudia Poll

The most successful Costa Rican athlete in history was born in Nicaragua in 1972. Claudia María Poll Ahrens, is the daughter of German immigrants, who decided to move their family to Costa Rica in 1979, after political tensions were rising and an earthquake shook Managua.

Before she became the first Latin American woman to win an Olympic swimming gold medal, Claudia and her sister Silvia -two of the most successful swimmers in Costa Rica- started their Olympic journey right after they settled, since their mother decided to enroll them in swimming lessons at the Cariari Club.

Claudia Poll became a naturalized Costa Rican citizen in 1993. Since then, she has been very vocal about how proud she is to be a “tica” and to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

In 1998 Poll graduated from Business Administration and in 2007 she became a mother of her only child, Cecilia. Claudia’s older sister Silvia, was also a competitive swimmer who won a silver medal in Seoul 1988, Costa Rica’s first ever Olympic medal.

Gold podium

The former Costa Rican swimmer competed in the 200 to 800 meters freestyle events. She is a multiple national record holder in those competitions, with regional and international titles.

Claudia Poll’s career as a high performance athlete started in 1989, when she obtained seven gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Swimming Championship (CCCAN), seven tournament records and entered for the first time to the world ranking in the 200-meter freestyle category.

Her first World Championship win was in the VII World Aquatics Championships of 1994 in Italy, where she achieved the bronze medal in the 200 and 400 meters freestyle and the seventh place of the 800 meters freestyle. In 1995 at the World Short Course Championships in Rio de Janeiro, she obtained the first Costa Rican world record: 1:55″42 in 200 meters freestyle.

Finally, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Claudia Poll Ahrens won a gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle swimming event, becoming the country’s first and only Olympic gold metalist. She defeated the current world champion, the German Franziska van Almsick, and the also German Dagmar Hase, defender of the Olympic title.

Later on, Poll continued with her medal run and won two bronze medals at the 2000 Sidney Olympics, one in the 200-meter and another one in the 400-meter freestyle competition.

Claudia Poll

Bumpy glory

After being named an “Honor Citizen” by the Costa Rican Congress in 1996, Costa Rican Sportswoman of the Year from 1993 to 2000, World Swimmer of the Year by the Swimming World Magazine in 1997 and Costa Rica’s Athlete of the Century in 1999, Claudia Poll was given a four-year doping ban after a failed test for norandrosterone in 2002, that was later reduced by World Aquatics (FINA) to two years.

Poll Ahrens claimed that the test and sampling methods were flawed and defended her innocence. When FINA lifted the sanction in 2003, she was allowed to participate in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, unfortunately, she did not pass the first round due to the lack of preparation time and competition before hand.

Her last international performance was at the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games, where she won two gold medals in the 200 and 400 meter freestyle, and a silver medal in the 100 freestyle, and also set a record in the first category, beating the time her sister Silvia did in 1986.

Final whistle

After her official retirement, she has participated in two World Masters of Swimming: Gothenburg in 2010, where she won two gold medals and Riccione in 2012, where she won a silver medal.

In 2012 Claudia Poll also served as a swimming analyst for the U.S. Telemundo network’s coverage from Florida of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

She also joined the team of coaches who led the Costa Rican national team in 2022 at the International Swim Open Naco Dolphins in the Dominican Republic, where she had the opportunity to manage her daughter Cecilia.

Immigrant pride

Costa Rica is the only country in Central America that has more than 300 thousand immigrants within its population; in addition to being the only nation in Latin America where 9% of its inhabitants are foreigners, the highest percentage in the region.

Legendary Olympic medalist Claudia Poll Ahrens is one of the many examples of the contribution of Nicaraguan migration to Costa Rica.

Her achievements go from being the winner of 699 medals and 50 trophies, part of the swimming national selection of Costa Rica on 20 occasions, winner of eight medals in swimming world championships and three medals from the Olympic Games, to setting 144 records.


‘Notable Costa Ricans’ is a series of profiles of outstanding characters from the history of the country.



She serves as the Journalist at Outlier Legal. Maripaz Soto has a Degree in Communication Science with a major in Journalism from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). She has worked with UNOPS and GIZ. Empathic, creative and determined, are some adjectives that fit her perfectly.

Review overview