Rolando Cruz Palacios´ dream of attending the 2008 Olympic Games was almost extinguished in mid July as he traveled to Mexico for a final chance to qualify for Beijing.
On the last weekend to meet the IAAF qualifying standards, the 21-year-old took advantage of the 2,640m high altitude of Toluca, Mexico's highest city, to post two breakthrough performances with 10.22 and 20.40 in the sprint events at the NACAC Under-23 Championships.
In the process, he claimed bronze in the 100m and silver in the longer distance, his first international medals outside the Central American region.
"I never lost the illusion of meeting the qualifying times. I knew I could produce such times as we have trained hard and with a great deal of dedication since early this year. My desire, the support of my coach and a training camp set up by the Olympic Committee all combined to achieve these times," he reflected on the magical weekend in Mexico.
Palacios has improved his national record over both distances many times this season. In the 100m, he took it from 10.38 to 10.22. In the 200m, he has rewritten the record books four times, from 21.16 to 20.40. He was fourth in both events at the Iberoamerican Championships in Chile and claimed the sprint double at the Central American Championships in front of his home crowd in San Pedro Sula.
Aim is to improve national records
Seeing a Central American sprinter for the first time in the world lists in many years confirms how much the sport has grown recently.
Rolando Palacios considers himself a fighter. "Luck does not exist. It is hard work and committing yourself to what you like. If you want to achieve a goal in your life, set it and you can make it."
The Physical education student knows the enormous challenge that lies ahead of his Olympic debut. "I will do my best and hope to improve in every race." And that means breaking his national records, he admits.
Although Palacios´ bests should not be enough to qualify for the semi-finals, he is set to improve what his compatriots have done in the past Games. Cristobal Corrales (200m in 1968), Jaime Zelaya (100m in 1992) and Pastora Chavez (100m in 1996) had a brief Olympic appearance and did not go beyond the first round.
Born in Sambo Creek, La Ceiba, Palacios started to emerge in the world of athletics in 2004 when he took a sprint double at the Central American Championships sprint double in Managua.
He made his big time debut at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, where he could not advance past the first round, but claimed a sprint double at the Central American Games in the Nicaraguan capital. He also had an early exit at the past two World Indoor Championships.
Praises for coach and family
Palacios says he owes all what he is now to his family and coach Andrés Luis Díaz. "Without him I would not be an athlete. He has helped me be what I am. Thanks to his scolding, I have learned to be a better person and a good athlete."
Equally important, he acknowledges the support of his parents Dionisia Castillo and Andrés Palacios, as well as his six siblings. Discipline has been crucial to progress in the sport and also in his studies. "When you organize your schedule, you can certainly do both."
He is philosophical about his athletic career. I don't find it difficult because I am doing what I like. There are things we miss, especially the family, when we are overseas."
Palacios believes he is not the only exception in his country. “When there are people who want Honduras to move forward, our country will enjoy more success in the sport.”
How far will Rolando go in Beijing? We will start to know the answer on Friday in the men's 100m heats. But more importantly, he wants to live the patriotic privilege of representing Honduras and show that "our country can produce winners."
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF