Mexican Donovan Carrillo brings hope and excitement to Latin America in ice skating

Mexico’s Donovan Carrillo competes in the men’s short program figure skating competition at the Beijing Winter Olympics. He was 19th and qualified for the long program. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Donovan Carrillo may have been in Beijing, but his image was everywhere in Mexico Tuesday morning.

There he smiled as he knelt on the ice in a full-page photo behind the title ¡Mágico! in the Reforma daily in Mexico City. “His dream is coming true,” shouted El Norte, Monterrey’s leading newspaper, alongside a photo of a smiling Carrillo sliding down the ice. “Makes History,” tabloid Esto captioned a cover photo of – what else? — a smiling Carrillo, balancing on a skate on the ice at the Winter Olympics.

The Mexican media hasn’t featured this much ice cream since Disney’s “Frozen” opened in the country nearly a decade ago. But when you are a big underdog on the world stage, the whole world applauds you.

And few winter athletes have come to Beijing as bigger underdogs than 22-year-old Carrillo, who made history on Monday by becoming the first male skater from Latin America to advance to free skating at the Olympics. .

His mother, Diana Isela Suazo, had to watch from her home in Guadalajara due to China’s strict COVID-19 protocols. In fact, she didn’t even have a day off.

But she celebrated just as proudly.

“I am grateful for the positive response and the love that has been given to the work of Donovan and Goyo,” she said, including her son’s coach, Gregorio Núñez, in her thoughts after checking in on Tuesday. . “It’s the culmination of a lifetime of mutual effort and sacrifice that finally pays off.”

It is also the last chapter of an improbable and chimerical tale, which included many more obstacles than successes.

When Carrillo was 13, Guadalajara’s only rink closed, forcing him to leave his family and follow his coach to the central Mexican city of León, where he trained on an undersized rink in a mall, sharing ice cream with tottering toddlers. skates and teenagers on dates.

In a country that had not sent a skater to the Olympics for three decades, there is no tradition of participation in the sport. Equipment, funding and even understanding were therefore hard to come by.

“People didn’t believe in me or my sport,” Carrillo said. “People laughed at me”

Today, the whole country is celebrating with him after his spirited 19th place finish in the short skate on Monday qualified him for Wednesday’s long program, achieving the humble goal Núñez set for his skater ahead of the Games.

“It’s unbelievable for us,” said Galaxy striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, another Guadalajara native and Mexico’s all-time top scorer, who was among those cheering on Carrillo. “That’s the beauty of it, when a lot of people in Mexico try new sports and try new, different passions. There will always be the first time.

“It’s amazing that he puts our country on top.”

That’s the beauty of it, when a lot of people in Mexico are trying out new sports and trying out new, different passions. There will always be the first time.

Galaxy striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez

Donovan Carrillo raises his arms in celebration of the 2022 Olympics.

Mexico’s Donovan Carrillo reacts after the men’s short program figure skating competition in Beijing. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Isadora Williams, who grew up in Virginia but competed for Brazil, is the only other athlete representing Latin America to reach the final of an Olympic figure skating competition, finishing last in a field of 24 in 2018. So , if Carrillo defeats a single competitor on Wednesday, he will make more history.

And if the world thought Carrillo’s debut performance was joyous and inspired, wait and see what’s next.

Carrillo skated to two songs by Mexican American artist Carlos Santana in the short program, but he expanded his playlist for the four-minute long program.

“It’s a Latin American thing,” Carrillo said. “My goal is to share my sport with everyone. Of course, in my country Mexico, but at the same time I wanted to share my skating with all the Latin American people because we are very passionate. And I think we are talented and hard workers.

The result is an eclectic and catchy soundtrack: “Maybe, maybe, maybe” in English with Mexican crooner Carlos Rivera; Dean Martin’s 1954 classic “Sway”; and two songs featuring Puerto Rican singers, “Maria” by Ricky Martin and “bailar,with Elvis Crespo and Mexican DJ Deorro.

“At some point we could develop more athletes and more young skaters from Latin America,” Carrillo said. “It’s a good way to motivate them and show them the sport.”

As for his own Olympic experience, it could have been in an empty arena with his family watching on TV 7,500 miles away, but in the end he made his country pay attention to a sport he didn’t know he cared.

“I didn’t want it to end,” Carrillo said of his short program. “I wanted to keep skating and living the Olympic dream. For me to qualify for free skating is like a dream come true.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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