They said he should play football. They said figure skating was for girls only. They said winter sports made no sense in the temperate region of Guadalajara.
But none of those naysayers deterred Mexican figure skater Donovan Carrillo, the rare Latin American Winter Games athlete who has now become an even rarer – albeit relative – Beijing Olympics achievement from this game. of the globe.
Carrillo put in a career-best performance in the flagship sport of the Winter Games on Tuesday at Capital Indoor Stadium, with a well-executed four-toe loop and a challenging triple axel.
That allows her to qualify for the longest free skating competition on Thursday – a first for Mexico, which hadn’t had an Olympic skater in three decades. This instantly made Carrillo the most successful Mexican figure skater in history.
“For me to have the opportunity to be one of the few Latin American athletes here at the Olympics is really something that motivates me to do my best and to inspire more children in Latin America and in my country trying to practice winter sports,” Carrillo said. “I used to talk about this dream with people. They always laughed or told me that it was impossible for a Mexican to to qualify.
In Beijing, Carrillo is one of 33 athletes from nine Latin teams: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Puerto Rico. There are 10 other athletes from four other Caribbean teams, including the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. None have ever won a medal at the Winter Games.
Brazil – usually a Summer Games powerhouse – claim the most athletes, but the 10 winter competitors in Beijing are just a fraction of their 302 who competed at the Tokyo Games last year.
Of the four athletes on Team Mexico, Carrillo is the only one who stayed in Mexico to cultivate his talents, which he insists on doing. Two others have Mexican heritage but train in the United States and Canada, while a third – Sarah Schleper – joined the Mexico team after marrying a Mexican and retiring from the US ski team .
Carrillo’s stronger-than-expected figure skating short program on Tuesday was steeped in national pride. His music was on Santana, his father’s favorite band. Carrillo’s blade covers displayed the green, white, and red colors of the Mexican flag. He wore a shimmering black and gold suit custom-made by Mexican fashion designer Edgar Lozzano, who gave it to the skater for free.
“It’s something I always try to do with my performance, to involve Mexican culture,” Carrillo said. “Carlos Santana is Mexican. I always try to take different artists who could help me and motivate me to represent my country.”
The 22-year-old is from Guadalajara but moved with his coach to León when he was 13 because his hometown ice rink closed. He dreamed of Olympic glory and idolized Spaniard Javier Fernandez, who won bronze at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang to become the first Spanish figure skater to win a medal.
Brenda Elsey, professor of sports history at Hofstra University, said win or lose, Carrillo’s Olympics debut can only be good for Mexico and the rest of Latin America in terms of involvement in winter sports. Mexico does not have a national professional sports league or a collegiate system of competition for winter sports. Nor are the Winter Games a geopolitical priority for his government.
“The fact is that they should go to the European circuit to be able to qualify. The process of getting to the Olympics is more difficult than people realize, especially because there’s not necessarily a huge culture in Latin America calling for that,” Elsey said.
Even in popular ski resorts in Chile and Argentina, Elsey said mountain snow sports are so expensive that they’re effectively reserved for Western tourists and locals of European descent who are already familiar with skiing.
The lack of Latin American presence at the Winter Games is certainly an issue that the International Olympic Committee has taken note of. Elsey said winter sports themselves are rooted in Nordic traditions, which is also why Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia are not well represented.
“They would like to expand the market to increase the amount of money in marketing and broadcast rights,” Elsey said. “The IOC wants to be relevant to everyone.”
Back home, it may take another round of televised skating for Carrillo to really break into sports coverage of soccer-mad Mexico, although national newspapers were covered in photos of a smiling Carrillo on Tuesday.
Mexicans were quick to support the young figure skater, expressing their pride and support on social media, even though he is yet to be known.
A few hours after her debut, Anette Tapia admitted that she hadn’t followed the Olympics either, but that she had already seen something about Carrillo.
“It has a refreshing essence,” said the 26-year-old designer. “He has a lot of motivation.”
Figure skating is rare in Mexico, and there are no Olympic-sized rinks in the entire country. Skating rinks are generally limited to attractions inside malls.
In fact, it was on a small ice rink in the Plaza Mayor shopping center in the central state of Guanajuato that Carrillo trained in the run-up to the Olympics. His side hustle to afford this very expensive sport includes teaching ice skating lessons there.
Carrillo laments the way he came down to reality during his training: when people ask him to turn off his loud music, when he has to practice his dazzling maneuvers while dodging kids and families on the ice for fun, and especially when he has to share half the rink with hockey players.
“Every coach’s dream in Mexico is to have the right infrastructure, to keep skaters training in the country… (so) they don’t have to go out to improve,” said Gregorio Núñez, Carrillo’s coach for the past 14 years. “In our country, it is very difficult to have the infrastructure to practice winter sports.”
Carrillo said there is also a cultural barrier, as macho attitudes frown upon male skaters in particular.
“Sometimes people think artistic sports are just for women, so that’s something I had to fight as a kid because a lot of people at school were like, ‘Oh, you’re a girl. ‘, and they even sometimes think that doing an artistic sport, it’s going to affect your (sexual) preferences as a person. I never thought that,” Carrillo said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why we don’t have many male skaters in my country.”
Carrillo is proud to make history when he takes to the ice for Mexico in the men’s final on Thursday, although he is under no illusions that he is actually competing with the gold medalist. probable gold Nathan Chen of the American team.
The Mexican skater is not at all discouraged by this. He is already planning another race at Milan-Cortina in 2026 and sees Beijing as a good experience for his future aspirations. He simply knows that his mere presence at the Olympic ice rink here is a feat for his country.
“I had a great time on the ice,” a delighted Carrillo said. “I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to keep skating and living the Olympic dream.
Associated Press reporter Christopher Sherman contributed from Mexico City.
Seattle-based AP reporter Sally Ho is on assignment at the Beijing Olympics, covering figure skating. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/_sallyho.
More AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.