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Isabelino Gradín (8 July 1897 in Montevideomarker – 21 December 1944) was a Uruguayanmarker footballer and athlete. He was one of the greatest footballers in the early era of Uruguayan football. Gradín is regarded as one of the greatest Uruguayan players before the Uruguayan win at the 1930 FIFA World Cup. He played in Uruguayan South American Championship-winning teams in 1916 and 1917. He was also a four-time South American athletics champion in the 400 and 200 metres sprint.


Gradín was born in Montevideo in 1897 and was a great-grandson of African slaves. He was brought up in the Palermo barrio in Montevideo.

Football career

Club career

Gradín arrived at Peñarol in 1915 where he immediately made an impression, gaining selection for the national team in his first year. Over the course of his career he played in Uruguayan League championship in 1918 and in 1921. He played 212 games for Aurinegros, scoring 101 goals. After a dispute with the club he walked away from Peñarol in 1921.

In 1922 he was involved in the founding of the new Olimpia FC (later known as River Plate). Gradín played at Olimpia until his retirement from football in 1929 though his focus in his later career was on athletics rather than football.

International career

At the age of 18 Gradín made his international debut in July 1915 against Argentina in Montevideo.

1916 South American Championship

The 1916 South American Championship, in which Uruguay took out their first continental championship, is considered to have been Gradín's career high point. As the age of 19 he finished the tournament with three goals and was leading goalscorer for the tournament.

Gradín's racial background became an issue with Chile complaining before and after their match with Uruguay that the Uruguayans were unfairly selecting "Africans". They were unhappy with the selection of Gradín and his team mate Juan Delgado. The complaints were particularly bitter after Gradín scored two goals in Uruguay's 4–0 defeat of the Chileans. Gradín scored his third goal of the tournament in Uruguay's defeat of Brazil which won Uruguay the championship.

1917 South American Championship

Although a member of the title-winning Uruguay squad for the 1917 South American Championship he did not make it onto the pitch for any of their matches.

1919 South American Championship

At the 1919 South American Championship Gradín was more successful in getting on the pitch, playing all of Uruguay's matches at the tournament and scoring two goals. Unfortunately for him Brazil prevailed over Uruguay in the playoff final after four periods of extra time.

Gradín's presence as a black man in the Uruguayan team in Brazil was a matter of much controversy given the Brazilian reticence to select black players in their national teams. Many black Brazilians vociferously supported Gradín despite the fact that he was from a rival country.


After the 1919 championships Gradín only played sporadically for the national team. This was partly due to his siding with the rebel Federación Uruguaya de Football against the mainstream Uruguayan Football Association. In 1924 Gradín played for a rebel Uruguayan national team organised by the FUF against an Argentine national team organised by the Asociación Amateurs de Football. This led to him missing out on selection during Uruguay's successful tournament run in which they won several South American Championships and an Olympic gold medal.

By the time he played his last international in July 1927, against Argentina in Montevideo, he had played 24 times for the national teams, scoring 10 goals. He refused selection for the Uruguayan team to the 1928 Olympic Games.

Playing style

Although Gradín was a natural left-footer, he was proficient with both feet. He built a reputation on his explosive pace, accurate crossing and powerful shooting.

Gradín's playing style inspired Peruvianmarker poet Juan Parra del Riego to compose a poem Polirritmo al jugador de fútbol in his honour.


While still playing football, Gradín also managed to be a successful athlete.


Gradín began his club athletics career with Plaza de Deportes Nº 1 before transferring to Club Atlético Olimpio in 1918.

International competition

In 1918 he won two medals at the Campeonato de Iniciación, a gold medal in the 400 metres and a bronze medal in the 200 metres.

At the 1919 South American Championships in Athletics he won gold medals for the 200 metre and 400 metre sprints.

He followed up his 1919 success at the 1920 South American Championships in Athletics by successfully defending both his 200 and 400 metres titles.

In 1922 at the unofficial South American Championships known as the Campeonato Latino-Americano, Gradín won a gold medal in the 400 metres sprint.

Later life and death

Gradín spent his final years destitute and in poverty. By 1944 Gradín had become seriously ill and was in hospital. On 17 December 1944, on the day they had won the Uruguayan championship, the whole Peñarol team visited him at the Pasteur Hospital, dedicating their win to him. He died on 21 December 1944, four days later.

A biography of his life was released in 2000 by Uruguayan author Carina Blixen entitled Isabelino Gradín : testimonio de una vida.

A square in Montevideo is named in his honour. In 2009 a memorial star was placed in the square by the Montevideo local government.


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