Updated 27 July 2012
Luis Fernando LÓPEZ, Colombia
(20km Race Walk)
Born: 3 June 1979 Pasto, Nariño
Coach: Luis Fernando Rozo
Club: Liga Atlética de las Fuerzas Armadas (Armed Forces)
Born in Pasto, capital of the southernmost Colombian state of Nariño, López was introduced to athletics by his father, a former race walker, at the age of 11. His uncle, Marcelino Pastrana, a former national 800m champion, later took over as a coach.
“One day, they took me to a school race and they discovered in me a good aptitude for athletics, but I wanted to be a goal keeper. Argentina’s Julio Cesar Falcioni was my idol. I am an America de Cali fan. When I had my first bike, I wanted to be like 1986 Tour of Spain winner, Luis Lucho Herrera. I grew up admiring these athletes,” he recalled.
“But my dad insisted on athletics. On a Friday morning, He and my uncle took me to La Libertad stadium in Pasto, to a clay track. They gave me some race walking tips on the eve of a regional competition for 11-13 year olds. I won the race the following day.” His career had begun.
At the early age of 16, he enjoyed his first international success when finishing second at the 1995 South American Race Walking Cup.
Still a junior, he collected more honours in 1998, at the South American Race Walking Cup and the South American Junior Championships in Cordoba, Argentina.
With limited support to sports in his region, the then 19-year old met Luis Fernando Rozo, who encouraged him to join the Police in 1998. “My only goal was to make the national high performance team. I just wanted to become the best in my country,” he remembered.
López worked in the anti-narcotics division in the south of the country before joining the Police High Performance team in Bogotá, under the guidance of his coach Rozo.
Juggling training and his commitments with the Police, it took some time before López began to blossom again internationally.
In 2003, he improved his personal best by nearly a minute and a half at the inaugural IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Tijuana, Mexico and finished fourth at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo to round up his 2003 season.
A second placing at the South American Race Walking Cup in Chile with a personal best of 1:22:52 secured him a place in the Colombian team for the Olympic Games in Athens.
“My dream started to grow. It is a tradition in my family to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. I dreamed to competing at the Olympics and made it to Athens 2004.” He finished 24th in the Greek capital.
Progress continued the following year as López lowered his personal best to a respectable 1:20:26 at the Pan American Cup in Lima and finished 12th at his World Championships debut in Helsinki.
The highlight of his 2006 season was his first podium at an IAAF Race Walking Challenge event and becoming the first non Mexican to win the 20km walk gold medal in the history of the Central American and Caribbean Games. He was disqualified at his World Cup debut in La Coruna.
After a low par 2007, López made a breakthrough with his ninth placing at the Olympic Games in Beijing. “I realized I could win a big medal for my country. I prepared with that in mind. A person from Pasto, if given the opportunity, can achieve great things.”
From then on, the young Colombian has continued to move up in the very competitive world of race walking.
He opened 2009 with another Race Walking Challenge podium in Mexico and sealed a great season with a fifth place at the World Championships in Berlin, breaking Querubín Moreno’s 22-year old national record with 1:20:03.
“The competition started at 15km and I went regressively, could not hold on but realized I could beat the world’s best,” he said of his Berlin experience.
He also added the Americas Cup and Bolivarian Games titles that year, as well as the South American gold, setting a personal best over 20,000m (1:20:53.6) and breaking Ecuador’s three-time world and Olympic champion Jefferson Perez’s championships record.
A year later, López confirmed his performance in Berlin was not a fluke by finishing fourth at the World Cup, in Chihuahua, and set the South American 10km record (38:10) at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Beijing.
In 2011, he started with another Race Walking Challenge podium in Mexico and took the Pan American Cup on home soil, but had to continue training despite a groin injury.
He arrived in Daegu ranked far from the world’s best. Coming to the Korean city, he showed a modest season’s best of 1:21:53 but fought in every one of the 10 laps to claim Colombia’s first every World Championships medal – an achievement which would be equalled the next day by triple jumper Caterine Ibargüen.
“I had learned the lessons from Berlin and Chihuahua. It was the other way around in Korea. I had to stay focused and I could only celebrate the medal once I had crossed the finish line. My mom died when I was 3, but I felt her today as I stepped on the podium,” an elated López commented on his historic performance.
The feat earned him a hero’s welcome back home, from his colleagues in the Police, the officials and the press. In fact, even Ximena Restrepo, who took the bronze at the Olympic Games in Barcelona 1992, was not able to earn a medal at the World Championships: her best result was fifth in Stuttgart 1993.
López had to overcome several challenges in the lead-up to Daegu. “I developed a chronic injury, which slowed me greatly in training and put the whole season in jeopardy,” he remembered.
But working together with his psychologist (Rafael Savarain), he endured the pain and found the mental strength to succeed. “Credit also goes to my masseur Carolina Caicedo, and physical conditioner Jorge Guerra, Doctor Maurico Serrato and my coach.”
“The medal in Korea is the result of over 20 years of hard work, and dreaming as a child. I always dreamed of becoming a great sportsperson and I seized the opportunities provided by the National Police, Coldeportes (the Sports Ministry) and the National Athletics Federation,” he reflected on his feat.
He also had a message to Colombian youth: “You need to set goals in your life and be able to dream awake, to have discipline and to make lots of sacrifices, but sooner or later, this effort will pay off. It is a decision you make, saying NO to drugs and choosing a healthier life through sports.”
López ended his season with a bronze medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara.
He believes there are talented race walkers in Colombia to continue a successful path initiated in the 1980’s by the Moreno brothers (especially Querubín and Héctor).
At the 2010 World Cup, in Chihuahua, Eider Arevalo became World Junior Champion. At the 2011 World Youth Championships, Manuel Soto crossed the finish line first, but was disqualified. Kenny Perez won silver. “They were inspired by my words to achieve such magnificent results. But they also added pressure on me, as they led their respective races. I couldn’t disappoint them in Daegu and I didn’t. We showed we are good because we are Colombian,” he added.
López admits his upbringing has led him to love sport.
“My dad taught me to admire Colombian athletes, to be passionate about our sport. I recall watching cyclists Lucho Herrera, Alvaro Mejia and Fabio Parra battling at the Tour de France. I would go to bed watching our best boxers. I watched live the Olympic medals won by boxer Eliecer Julio in 1988 and 400m runner Ximena Restrepo in 1992.”
“I cried, as I did in Daegu, when I saw her winning the bronze medal. I did not know destiny will take me to be a World medallist,” he added.
“I admire my dad the most because he taught me who to admire, who to look up to. He is very much involved in athletics. Thanks to him, I am a persevering walker. I always fight to the end. Although we come from the developing world, we can show we can be at par with the world’s best,” he continued.
Race walking seems to be very much alive in his family. Apart from his 29-year old sister, he has a 12-year old brother, Andrés Felipe, who has started walking. He hopes his 2-year old nephew, Juan, will follow in his footsteps.
The beginning of 2012 was marked by a tragic event for the Daegu bronze medallist – the death of his coach, professor Luis Fernando Rozo, whose passing away was marked by a strange coincidence: Lopez’s mother, Dora Yolanda, had also passed away on a 21 January, in 1993.
After the tragedy, Luis Fernando himself became the head of the group, which consists of some 20 young talents of which at least 10 are walkers.
His first coach, Marcelino Pastrana, took over from Rozo and with the assistance of Enrique Peña, former coach of Ecuador’s multi-medallist Jefferson Pérez, is guiding the steps of López to achieve his dream of an Olympic medal.
“My focus remains on the goal we set out to achieve one day. It is never easy to forget someone who made a positive difference in my life. I keep the good memories as he would have liked to,” said Lopez, who follows the same methodology as in the past four years.
Lopez is very confident about his chances in London despite a low-par performance at the World Cup (51st) in May. He improved to 1:23:41 for ninth at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge event in La Coruña a month later. Lopez completed his tune-up training in the southwestern Colombian city of Cali.
“It is all or nothing in London on 4 August. The Olympic race will be at 11:30am Colombian time. I am taking this day as if it were the last day of my sporting life to I will give it all. Saransk and La Coruña were preparatory competitions which helped me fine-tune my training for the Games. My training started in February. It’s been difficult, but I am now on the right track and nothing is impossible with God’s help,” he commented on his aspirations in the British capital.
In his third Games, the 33-year old will lead a full Colombian team of three men and three women in the 20km walk in the British capital. The squad features 2011 Pan American Games silver medallist James Rendón and World Junior champion Eider Arévalo, who trains with him.
“These Games are different. I realised my dream in 2004 and in 2008 I lacked ambition and decision at the right time during the race. I knew what I wanted, but was not convinced I could make it. Now in 2012 I have this very unique chance and I don’t want to let it go. I want to be part of my country’s history and that’s what motivates me the most when facing tough challenges like World Championships and Olympic Games,” he added.
As he recovered from his injury sustained in 2011, Lopez married Adriana Milena Giraldo from Medellin - whom he met in the Colombian team for the 1998 South American Junior Championships - in December 2011. They have a daughter, Salome, born 13 June 2012. “She has become my N.1 inspiration in every step of my training.”
In his limited free time, López enjoys resting and spending time with Adriana. “She takes me out to movies.”
López has now been in the Police for 14 years, and his best friend is also a member. His name is Yermaín Marulanda, and he abandoned cigarettes for jogging sessions with Lopez since 1999, when they were together in the anti-narcotics group.
His favourite dishes are Rice and chicken, “mazamorra”, a corn-base dessert, as well as his grandmother’s pasta soup.
López studied civil engineering for 12 months at the University of Nariño and finished his studies as public accountant at the San Martin University in Bogotá.
5000m - 19:50.41A (2011) 10,000m- 40:33.87 (2003), 10km-38:10 (2010)
20,000m- 1:20:53.6 (2009), 20km- 1:20:03 (2009)
2001-1:26:31A, 2002-1:26:47.6t, 2003-1:25:09, 2004-1:22:52, 2005-1:20:26A, 2006-1:24:11, 2007-1:24:22.7t, 2008-1:20:59, 2009-1:20:03, 2010-1:21:12, 2011-1:20:38, 2012-1:23:41
1995 2nd South American Race Walking Cup (5km youth)
1998 3rd South American Race Walking Cup (10km junior)
1998 2nd South American Junior Championships
2003 9th Pan American Walking Cup
2003 4th Pan American Games
2004 2nd Pan American Race Walking Cup
2005 2nd Pan American Race Walking Cup
2005 3rd South American Championships
2005 12th World Championships
2005 4th Bolivarian Games
2006 2nd South American Race Walking Cup
2006 1st Central American and Caribbean Games
2007 3rd Pan American Race Walking Cup
2008 1st South American Race Walking Cup
2008 9th Olympic Games
2009 1st Pan American Race Walking Cup
2009 1st South American Championships
2009 5th World Championships
2009 1st Bolivarian Games
2010 5th IAAF Race Walking World Cup
2010 2nd Central American and Caribbean Games
2010 4th IAAF Race Walking Challenge
2011 1st Pan American Race Walking Cup
2011 3rd World Championships
2011 9th IAAF Race Walking Challenge
2011 3rd Pan American Championships
2012 51st IAAF Race Walking World Cup
Prepared by Javier Clavelo and Julio César Sandoval for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2012