A marathon swimmer from Venezuela says he had to sell his car to train for the Olympics because his country’s cash-strapped government wouldn't foot the bill.
Erwin Maldonado competed on Tuesday in the 10K open water race off Copacabana beach, finishing in an unremarkable 22nd place, despite a stronger 13th place finish in the previous Olympic games in London.
After the race, Maldonado complained that his poor performance was because he couldn't train properly. The swimmer, who doesn't live close to the ocean, said the lack of government support forced him to sell his car to pay for travel expenses and accommodations at a suitable training location. He said he could only afford to train for three months.
“The government gave me some money, but it came unjustifiably late,” Maldonado told the AFP news agency. The swimmer said he made several requests for funding to Venezuela’s ministry of sports, but was told that his Olympic bid was not a “priority.”
“Many (Venezuelan) athletes are suffering and went through the same thing I went through, but they are afraid to talk,” the swimmer said.
But Maldonado isn’t the only Venezuelan protesting the situation. Several other athletes from the basket case South American nation have also spoken out at the Rio Olympics about their country’s worsening conditions.
Earlier this week, 400m runner Alberth Bravo said he can no longer train in Venezuela because the athletic tracks in his country have fallen into disrepair. As a result, Bravo spends several months each year training in Spain.
“The country is going through a lot of problems and to be abroad for so long, knowing the hardships your family is going through, creates mental exhaustion,” the runner said.
Venezuelan hammer thrower Rosa Rodriguez says she spends half the year training in Slovenia. She said while she's training abroad her family spares her the details about the worsening unrest in Venezuela, including the food shortages and breadlines.
“They don’t want to mortify me with that tension. They just want me to concentrate on what I do,” Rodriguez told DPA news.
Venezuelan athletes who don't have the funding to train abroad have had an even tougher road to Rio, where the Venezuelan team has won only two medals.
In the run up to the Olympics, Venezuelan archer Elias Malave told Reuters that he had to train on his own for seven months because there were no funds for him to travel and meet with his Russian coach. Malave had to use an old bow left over from the London Olympics, and also missed out on several key pre-olympics tournaments.
“I thought this would change after I secured a spot in the Olympics, but nothing changed,” Malave told the news agency this summer.
The Venezuelan government has a different take on the situation. At a recent press conference ministry of sports officials said the preparation of Venezuela’s Olympic team had been “methodical and scientific,” with more than $30 million spent on support and training for their athletes in Rio.
Venezuela did manage to send 87 athletes to the Olympics, despite its harrowing economic crisis. That's the second largest delegation Venezuela has ever sent to the Olympics in the country's history.
But the big team hasn't been able to win many medals. So far Venezuela has only won one silver in the triple jump, and a bronze in boxing.
Marathon Swimmer Erwin Maldonado says he’s had enough and is thinking about leaving Venezuela for good to seek better opportunities in swimming abroad.
“My coach got a job in Chile, where his job is valued,” Maldonado said. “I hope I can go along with him.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.