Racewalker Erick Barrondo won Guatemala's first-ever Olympic medal on Saturday, taking silver in the 20-kilometer walk after finishing behind China's Ding Chen, who set a new Olympic record with a time of 1:18:46.
Barrondo, who crossed the finish line 11 seconds later, mounted an attack in the second-to-last kilometer to separate himself from Russia's Valery Borchin, the defending Olympic champion, and China's Zhen Wang, who came in third.
"There was a moment when I dropped into fourth place. But I remained calm ... the first part was slow and in the second part there were a lot of world stars pushing and among them a Guatemalan dreamer who worked to make his dreams come true," the 21-year-old said.
He said his path to victory began two months ago when he bought his parents a television so they could watch him compete in London.
"Our financial situation isn't good, but I made an effort and bought the television so they could see me win a medal; I was confident I would win it," Barrondo said.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina spoke with the athlete over the phone after his victory, a conversation broadcast by Emisoras Unidas radio.
"Here in Guatemala we experienced some incredibly emotional moments. We feel very proud to see the effort you put in," the head of state told Barrondo.
"He's going to be welcomed as a hero, as he deserves. We're going to be waiting for him with open arms," Perez Molina said.
A 10th-place finisher at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, South Korea, Barrondo, whose parents were both middle-distance runners, took his place among the elite in his sport with a victory that same year at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Since winning that race with a time of 1:21:51, he has made great strides in bringing his time down further and the work paid off in an unforgettable day for Guatemalan athletics.
Barrondo also will compete in the 50-kilometer race, which will be held next Saturday.
The Guatemalan got his start in track and field as a middle-distance runner, but after he suffered an injury his coach, Jorge Coy, recommended that he racewalk as part of his recovery.
Barrondo is a native of San Cristobal Alta Verapaz, a poor, highland town some 280 kilometers (175 miles) from Guatemala City, where his girlfriend, Isabel, also lives.
Although his Olympic success is sure to raise his profile, Barrondo says he considers himself an ordinary human being and he hopes his victory leads some young gang member living a life of crime to turn in his gun for a pair of running shoes and start training.
"In Guatemala, there's violence and I'd be thrilled if after this someone stops going down the wrong path and starts practicing sports," he said. EFE