Like many athletes in Peru, Raul Pacheco has had to train without the proper nutrition and equipment because of a lack of financial support, but at least he will not be running the marathon in soccer boots at the London Olympics.
Qualifying for the London Games is a dream come true for Pacheco, who has had to overcome severe financial constraints to enjoy any kind of success at international level.
“When I started doing athletics I won a competition wearing football boots,” said Pacheco, one of only a handful of Peruvian competitors going to London after he qualified at the Seoul marathon last month.
“It was very difficult because with every step I took, they made a noise and on reaching another competitor or the finish, my shoes sounded louder than the others,” he said in a interview.
Pacheco began racing more than 10 years ago, but did not think at first about becoming a professional athlete.
“The investment needed to be an athlete is very high, which is why there are so few sportspeople going out to represent Peru. The majority try to race here in national races,” said Pacheco, who turns 33 on Thursday next week.
“To be an athlete is very difficult in Peru because of the fact we don’t have sports equipment, because it is very expensive ... We don’t have a balanced diet, which means that our bodies don’t have much resistance. We don’t have nutrition through enough vitamins to help us reach our objectives,” he said.
Pacheco, born in the Andean city of Huancayo about 300km southeast of Lima, says he loves soccer, but turned his back on the game to dedicate his time to athletics after being encouraged by a teacher to train.
“I started to run when I was 17, but it was like a hobby. Suddenly I was taken to a race and I won, and that pushed me to keep at it,” Pacheco said.
Several years on, Pacheco concentrated on the marathon and now hopes to spring a surprise in London.
“I feel proud to represent my country at an Olympics. I hope to bring back good results and if possible win a medal. It would make me and the country very proud,” he said.
Pacheco, a four-time winner of Peru’s Marathon of the Andes, might have missed out on London after an injury-plagued year last year.
He placed 12th in the marathon at the Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October, 11 minutes behind winner Solonei Silva of Brazil.
Pacheco has left behind the difficulties of his early years as an athlete and he gets help from the Peruvian Sports Institute (IPD), but still has to make big sacrifices.
“To qualify for the Olympics I had to invest 80 percent of my money in training. The IPD gives us a percentage, but it’s not enough to be able to train well and get [to the Games] in good shape,” Pacheco said.
“Our goal is London and to try to win, bring home a medal, which would be an achievement for the country,” he added.
Latin America’s limited success in the marathon has been almost exclusively Argentine, apart from Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima’s bronze medal at the Athens Games eight years ago.
Juan Carlos Zabala won the 1932 marathon in Paris for Argentina and compatriot Delfo Cabrera gave them their second goal medal in 1948 — the last time the Games were held in London.
Four years later, Reinaldo Gorno extended the Argentine marathon tradition by winning the silver medal in Helsinki.