Conchita Cintrón: Matador who led the way for women in the bullring

Conchita Cintrón Verrill, who fought a long uphill battle to establish a central role for women as matadors, has died in Lisbon, where she had lived in retirement for many years.

Cintró*was born in Antofagasta, Chile; her father was from Puerto Rico and her mother was born in the United States of Hispanic heritage. The patina of legend began to accrue in 1935 when Cintró*made her professional debut at the age of 13 in Peru at the Lima bullring. She chose to fight as a rejoneador, that is, from horseback. She proved herself to be an excellent bullfighter, thanks to her skilful and alert horsemanship.

In "rejon", the horses are as important an element as the bull. Unprotected, they have to be ridden close in to the danger zone, and are as susceptible to wounding, goring and other injuries as the rider. It is the skill with which the rejoneador mounts his attack on the bull while protecting the horse that wins the plaudits.

Because there are fewer rejoneadors on the bullfight circuit in the hispanic world, this form of bullfighting has evolved as a side show in the world of tauromachia but, thanks to Cintrón, one that has enjoyed steady growth in recent decades.

Firstly, she cut a dazzling image when galloping into the bull ring, smartly dressed in gaucho hat, jacket, white blouse, slacks and boots, her horse rearing up and darting dangerously close to the bulls while she positioned herself with short banderillas in preparation for the final deadly waltz leading to the moment of truth.

Her image was further enhanced by her long blonde hair and her poise, one reason why she was known as La Diosa Rubia – the blonde goddess. Despite the suggestion of immortality suggested by her nickname, she acknowledged that the moment of truth sometimes worked both ways. In 1949, Cintró*was gored severely in her right thigh in a bullfight in Guadalajara, Mexico. She was dragged to safety, but picked herself up and returned to the centre of the ring and despatched the bull before collapsing.

Her reputation grew throughout Latin America, and eventually she was invited to appear in bullrings in Spain. This was at the time of the post-Civil War Franco dictatorship which forbade women to fight as matadors. Her first appearance was at the La aestranza bullring in Seville in April, 1945, thanks to a helping hand from Marcial Lalanda. Along with Manolete, who a few years later would be gored to death, Lalanda was a leading matador of the post-war era.

Cintrón's first appearance was a formidable challenge: in Spain, the centre of the bullfighting world, the most professional and critical eyes would be on her as she sought to prove herself. Another fixture was scheduled soon afterwards at Las Ventas en Madrid and at El Monumental in Barcelona.

In 1950 she fought her last fight, at Jaé*in Andalusia, after appearing in more than 400 events and killing more than 700 bulls. It was said by aficionados that the day she dismounted for the last time was a sad day for bullfighting.

After retiring, she married a Portuguese aristocrat, Francisco Castelo Branco. She kept an active interest in bullfighting while raising a family of five sons. She also took up journalism, writing diary columns for several publications. She was also invited to become an attaché to the Peruvian embassy in Lisbon. She returned to the ring in Nîmes, France, in 1991 in a ceremony to welcome Maria Sara, France's leading rejoneador, to the professional ranks.

Concepció*Cintró*Verrill, (Conchita Cintrón), bullfighter: Born Antofagasta, Chile 9 August 1922; married Francisco de Castelo Branco (five sons, four deceased); Died Lisbon 17 February 2009.

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