Created 24 July 2012
Érick Bernabé BARRONDO, Guatemala (20km and 50km Race Walking)
Born 14 June 1991 in San Cristóbal, Alta Verapaz
Coach: Lino Rigoberto Medina (Cuba)
Born in San Cristóbal, Alta Verapaz, very close to the athletic city of Cobán, Barrondo soon showed his interest and conditions to become a high performance sportsman, first as a footballer and then as a long distance runner.
His parents, Bernardo Barrondo and Leticia García, were traditional participants at the Cobán International Half Marathon, Guatemala’s top road race. They both instilled in Erick the love for athletics together with Jorge Coy, his first coach.
“They got me involved in sports as they were long distance runners. I started running with them to become a marathoner,” he recalled.
After playing football in a plot of vacant land, kicking an orange as ball and improvised goals, Érick first learned of his potential during physical education lessons. He realised his endurance and speed made him among the best runners in his area.
During an edition of the Cobán Half Marathon, seeing a participant running with the “Guatemala” vest increased his motivation to tackle the 21 kilometers, training hard to cover the distance in a respectable time. However, a knee injury destroyed his dreams.
“Jorge started to make me do race walking as part of my rehabilitation, but I did not like it. I travelled to Guatemala City for a 10km competition in which I performed poorly. I finished fifth and cried,” confessed Barrondo, who eventually learned to enjoy the event.
At 18 years of age, Barrondo was spotted by Cuban coach Lino Rigoberto Medina, who had just been hired to lead the Guatemalan race walking team after working in El Salvador y Ecuador with good results. In July 2010, the young walker trained with the new coach for the first time at the Mateo Flores stadium in Guatemala City, the country’s top athletics facility.
At the time, race walking in Guatemala was going through difficult times, after no athlete had qualified to the Central American and Caribbean Games, in Mayagüez, while race walking had been the event where Guatemala had been more successful, with Julio René Martinez (who posted a World record time of 1:17.46, in 1999 over 20km) and Luis Fernando García (50km bronze medal at the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo).
“Érick was a child then. I knew he had what it takes to achieve great results and I brought him to the team, knowing we could soon revive race walking in this country with him,” stated Medina, who is nicknamed Maca by his friends.
On 19 November 2010, at the Cementos Progreso senior international meet, Érick achieved his first big result, completing 10,000m in 40:38.74, a new Guatemalan record and the second best junior mark in the world that year.
This fast time “arrived very early in my career, but it gave me a good indication of what I could achieve if I worked hard and gave my best in competition. That result was one of the things that pushed me to be a better walker,” he explained.
Exactly a month later, on 19 December, Érick impressed again in his first 20km race during a test organised by the Federación Nacional de Atletismo de Guatemala (FNA) on Avenida Reforma in Guatemala City. He won it in 1:23:16, thus securing his preliminary qualification for the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara.
Barrondo, who had been incorporated into the Guatemala team, which also included Jaime Daniel Quiyuch, Jamy Amarilis Franco and Mirna Sucely Ortiz, started 2011 on a high note. On 27 February, he registered his first major international success, winning the Central American Cup in El Salvador in 1:24.34 in San Salvador, a performance which confirmed his qualification for the Pan American Games.
“I was not satisfied because I knew I could do better, but what was important at the time was to confirm our great work with Maca, which many did not believe in,” he commented.
His progress continued on 26 March in Envigado, Colombia, at the Pan American Race Walking Cup, where he captured silver with 1:25:56, behind local walker Luis Fernando López, with whom he was to start a great sporting rivalry.
“My nerves betrayed me a bit. I had trained to achieve a totally different result and a better time. But I knew I was on the right track and that I would have other opportunities to improve,” he confessed.
That opportunity arrived on 1 May 2011 at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Sesto San Giovanni, Italy, where he finished 13th in 1:24:32, getting closer to qualification for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
He achieved his Olympic dream during the Dublin Grand Prix on 26 June, where he finished fourth in 1:20.58, well inside the IAAF “A” standard of 1:22:30. That time allowed Guatemala to return to the Olympic 20km race walking after Martínez and García had competed at the 50km distance at the 2004 Games in Athens, and Garcia in Beijing 2008 as well.
“Everything changed for me. A dream came true by making the standard and achieving something big like qualifying for the Olympic Games. That’s what I was pursuing all my life,” said Érick, whose desire to improve his marks prevented him from being totally satisfied with what he had achieved in Dublin. “I wanted to break the 1:20-hour barrier,” he said.
His next challenge was the 13th World Championships in Daegu, Korea. Érick and his countrywoman Jamy Amarilis Franco were aiming to establish themselves among the strongest on the planet and Barrondo set out to improve Guatemala’s best performance in World Championships history, a 12th place finish by Julio René Martínez at 50km walk in Helsinki 2005.
In addition to facing off with Colombian Luis Fernando López and Mexican Éder Sánchez for the Pan American supremacy, Barrondo also competed against elite athletes like Russia’s Valery Borchin and Vladimir Kanaykin.
Inexperience took a high toll on Érick, who went out too fast from the leading pack and as he could not sustain the fast pace. He was overtaken by the medal winners, including bronze medallist López. The Guatemalan finished 10th in 1:22:08.
“I am happy to be among the top 10 in the world, but I am not satisfied with the time. I failed mentally. I was let myself be overcome by emotions and my desire to win. It is undoubtedly a lesson learned for the future,” he reflected on his performance.
His most important race of the year came in October at the 15th Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Before the 2011 edition, Guatemala had only achieved seven gold medals and only one in athletics. It was won by Doroteo Guamuch Flores - known as Mateo Flores - in the marathon at the 1955 Games in Mexico City.
Race Walkers had contributed with three bronze medals won by Julio Urías (50km) and Julio René Martínez (20km) in Mar del Plata 1995 as well as Luis Fernando García (50km) in Santo Domingo 2003.
On 23 October, on Avenida Vallarta in Guadalajara, Barrondo competed in the 20km, against Colombians Luis Fernando López and James Rendón and Mexico’s Éder Sánchez, and triumphed in a time of 1:21:51.
The Pan American gold represented the greatest accomplishment in his sporting career, which he celebrated by crossing the finish line, draped in the Guatemalan flag and with his arms raised to the sky.
It capped a historic day for Guatemala, as earlier that day his teammates Jamy Amarilis Franco and Mirna Sucely Ortiz had taken golden and silver, achieving an unprecedented 1-2 in the women’s 20km. Six days later, Jaime Daniel Quiyuch walked to bronze in the 50km to seal a historic performance for Guatemalan athletics at the Pan American Games.
“Today, a small country like Guatemala has shown how great it can be. We Guatemalans arrived here hoping to win and we demonstrated what we can achieve when we aim for it. It is an immense joy and it is the best reward for all the hard work, efforts and dedication, as well as the work accomplished by coach Medina,” Barrondo said as a newly crowned continental champion.
Guatemalan society celebrated Barrondo’s success and those of his training partners and the rest of the national delegation in Guadalajara 2011. It increased interest in race walking among many children and youth, who wanted to follow up on his footsteps. The demonstration came a few weeks later, when Érick and the national team drew around 300 children and youth on Avenida Reforma in Guatemala City in an event designed to initiate them to race walking.
Several media outlets selected him among the best Guatemalan sportspeople in 2011 and the National Sportswriters Association (ACD) honoured him as country’s best sportsman of the year.
In 2012, Erick set himself several goals, including breaking 1:20 in the 20km race, an accomplishment which only one Guatemalan had achieved, Julio René Martínez, who did it four times between 1997 and 1999, including his 1:17:46 in 1999, a World record then and still standing as Central American and Caribbean and national record.
Before fully focusing on that goal, his coach Rigoberto Medina decided that his athlete should train and compete for a debut over 50km, as he was confident Erick could contest both distances at the London Olympics. The Cuban coach was right. At the 81st Spanish Championships in Pontevedra, Galicia, on 4 March, Érick made an impressive debut at the distance with a winning 3:44.59, over 14 minutes inside the IAAF ‘A’ Olympic standard. In the process, he broke Julio Urías’ 17-year old national record of 3:49:57.
“It has been one of the most important days in my life. I couldn’t find the words to describe the emotions I felt as I walked my first 50km. It gives me a lot of motivation to move forward and improve my times before the Olympics,” he commented.
Two weeks later, on 18 March, Barrondo and the Guatemalan team contested the 10th Lugano Trophy in Switzerland, one of the most historical and prestigious stops of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge. Érick returned to the 20km, with his mind set in improving his personal best.
Italy’s 2008 50km Olympic champion Alex Schwazer and Frenchman Yohan Diniz were in the fray against Érick, who had a great day and finished third behind them in 1:18:25, a massive personal best by over two minutes. He had achieved his goal and came within 39 seconds of Martínez’s national record.
“I know I can improve my time even more,” were Érick’s first words to the national press celebrating his achievement. “Today we have shown once again that all the hard work we do with the team and our coach bears fruits,” he added.
As of 23 July, Barrondo is ranked eighth on the 2012 world lists, led by Schwazer with 1:17.30, and he is the fastest walker from the Americas this season.
Almost two months followed without competition, as Érick and the Guatemalan team focused on their conditioning first in Quetzaltenango, a city located 200 km west of Guatemala City and at over 2,000m above sea level. They followed it with a camp at sea level in Barcelona before the 2012 World Cup in Saransk, Russia.
Barrondo arrived in the Russian city as one of the top medal contenders in 20km, together with locals Valery Borchin, Andrey Krikov and Vladimir Kanaykin, as well as China’s Zhen Wang. However, the race on Bolshevistskaya t avenue had a sad epilogue for Barrondo, as he was disqualified close to the 15km mark when he was in the leading pack.
“It was a tough moment, I have never been disqualified and it took me a while to accept it. I did not come to Russia to be disqualified but to fight hard for the top placings, and I was achieving it. Judges decided otherwise and it was a very painful feeling,” he admitted.
After Saransk, Barrondo and his training partners spent a great deal of time recovering physically and mentally, as well as fine tuning their preparation for the Olympics, where Jamy Amarilis Franco, Mirna Sucely Ortiz and Mayra Carolina Herrera in the women’s 20km and Jaime Daniel Quiyuch in 50km are also qualified.
Based on his achievements and progress, Érick was shortlisted by the Guatemalan Olympic Committee (COG) for the role of flag bearer for the Olympic Games opening ceremony, together with gymnast Ana Sofía Gómez and sailor Juan Maegli, who was finally selected for this honour.
The young walker is confident that his preparation in the last months leading up to London will enable him to fight for a podium finish and end Guatemala’s 60-years’ medal drought, since the country’s Olympic debut at the 1952 Games in Helsinki.
“To sum it, all our hard training is aimed to peak on race day (4 August). What we have done before will be worth it if I can walk in the lead and be at the top level. There’s nothing else I want more in this world than a medal for me and my country,” Érick confessed.
Since I was a child I dream of competing for Guatemala at the Olympic Games, and this time I will have this opportunity in two events. I am confident I can do my best and return home successful,” he concluded.
10,000m – 40.38.74 (2010)
20km – 1:18:25 (2012)
50 km – 3:44:59 (2012)
20km: 2010: 1:23:16; 2011: 1:20:58; 2012: 1:18:25
50km: 2012: 3:44.59
2010 1st Cementos Progreso International Meet 10km 40:38.74A
2010 1st National Event (Guatemala City) 20 km 1:23:16
2011 1st Central American Cup (San Salvador) 20 km 1:24.34
2011 2nd Pan American Cup (Envigado) 20 km 1:25:56
2011 13th IAAF Challenge (Sesto San Giovanni) 20 km 1:24:32
2011 4th Dublin Grand Prix (Dublin) 20 km 1:20.58
2011 10th World Championships (Daegu) 20 km 1:22.08
2011 1st Pan American Games Guadalajara) 20 km 1:21:51
2012 1st Spanish Championships (Pontevedra) 50 km 3:44.59
2012 3rd IAAF Challenge Lugano Trophy 20 km 1:18:25
2012 DQ World Race Walking Cup (Saransk) 20 km
Prepared by Fernando Ruiz del Valle for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2012.