Only Olympic medal: The race walker who achieved glory for Guatemala

Erick Barrondo of Guatemala celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win a silver medal during the race walk at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Erick Barrondo of Guatemala celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win a silver medal during the race walk at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

While winning an Olympic medal is a personal goal for thousands of athletes, for 24 nations it is a dream that has only ever come true once. Tokyo2020.org looks at the glorious moment and the impact it had on the lives of the athletes who achieved it.

The background

The name of Erick Barrondo is written in golden letters in the history of sports for Guatemala. At London 2012, he won the first medal at the Olympic Games for the Central American country, with a silver in the 20km race walk. At 28-years-old, he is a clear example that dreams can be fulfilled by effort and hard work.

However, Barrondo had to strive hard to achieve this historical medal as he faced many difficulties during his professional career.

Barrondo was born into a very humble family. His father was a farmer and his mother worked as a cook in a student hostel. He began his professional life studying to become an accountant, but abandoned his studies to venture to the Guatemala's capital in search of a new life.

There he found his future and his greatest passion: sports.

In Guatemala City, he met Rigoberto Medina, his first coach and his mentor in race walking. From the beginning, the coach knew that the young man had the necessary qualities to stand out, but taking part in competitions was not easy due to financial limitations.

"To go to the Panama Central American Youth Athletics Championship, my dad had to pawn a field. He told me it was the only thing he had for the family," said Barrondo, who went on to win the event.

From there, a successful career started. In 2010, he broke the national record in the 20km, dropping the previous mark by 32 seconds. In 2011, he finished among the top 10 in the world, at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, Republic of Korea. He also won gold at the 2011 Pan American Games.

Finally, he qualified for the Olympic Games London 2012. Shortly before leaving, Barrondo bought his family a television to watch him win the Olympic medal.

"I promise that I will take the television out of the box the day you compete," his father told him.

Silver medallist Erick Barrondo of Guatemala, gold medallist, Ding Chen of People's Republic of China, and bronze medallist Zhen Wang of People's Republic of China celebrate their medals in the Men's 20km race walk at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Silver medallist Erick Barrondo of Guatemala, gold medallist, Ding Chen of People's Republic of China, and bronze medallist Zhen Wang of People's Republic of China celebrate their medals in the Men's 20km race walk at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
2012 Getty Images

History in the making

Barrondo took to the podium at the Olympics Games on 4 August 2012 with a time of 1:18.57, achieving a historic milestone for Guatemalan sports. He was not among the favourites but he was confident in his chances.

“I had studied the rest of the competitors and saw that physically they could win a medal but, mentally - and that's what an athlete needs to win a medal- they were not ready. On the other hand, that was what I had. I have had it since I was a child," he said.

Throughout the race, Barrondo was in contention for victory against People's Republic of China athlete CHEN Ding, who won gold, setting a new Olympic record (1:18:46).

Once the race was over, the Guatemalan showed his emotion telling the press: “There are no words to tell people what I felt. You can see in front of your eyes everything that you have had to suffer and overcome to reach that moment. I began to imagine my happy family, the days we had to go to sleep on an empty stomach, the difficult childhood we lived through and the times in the capital I didn't even have to eat, but I had to go to train. In the end, any effort is worth it."

How Guatemala’s Olympic medal inspired a generation of racewalkers
08:05

Life-changing impact

His silver medal triumph inevitably made him a benchmark and hero for athletes in his home country.

This is one of the main points in a documentary that the Olympic Channel produced about his life. The film takes viewers to the land where Barrondo was raised and explains how hard his life was when he was growing up.

In the Verapaces - a region within Guatemala - Barrondo is very well known and since his medal he has inspired more than 300 children to take up athletics.

"If Erick dared, I also want to dare," is the message sent by the medallist, who assures that thanks to sport, stability and a better life can be achieved.

Barrondo believes that his country's future lies in sports, telling El Pais newspaper in 2016: “I will feel like the happiest man in the world if tomorrow a Guatemalan leaves a gun or a knife and goes to the stadium to put on some tennis shoes and start playing sports."

After his success in London, Barrondo career continued. At Rio 2016, injury hampered his efforts finishing 50th in the 20km.

Currently, Barrondo is preparing with the help of former Olympic race walker and Spanish coach Francisco 'Paquillo' Fernández to be in good physical condition for Tokyo 2020 and win another medal for his beloved country.