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Sports: the global language

Erick Barrondo: 'Gold in Rio is my goal'

Erick Barrondo speaks to DW about making history in 2012, when he won Guatemala's first ever Olympic medal. The race walker is a sporting superstar in his country and has set himself high goals for the future.

DW: Erick Barrondo, you are a sporting superstar and recently won the national race walking title. What does it mean to you to be the number one?

Erick Barrondo: I can share the victory with everyone who has supported and furthered me. I'm also pleased to see that everything is going well in our team. It helps me when I take part in events outside of Guatemala, because then I don't have to take sole responsibility. I can now share that with other athletes from Guatemala. We've made headway.

How did the silver medal in London change your life?

Erick Barrondo with Ding Chen and Zhen Wang

Erick Barrondo (left) picked up silver in London in 2012, but barely even knew the rules of race walking

I used to be an athlete without money. I had nothing to eat, I didn't even have a home. With God's help and the help of my friends, my life changed dramatically. Today, people believe in me. What I say, carries weight in Guatemala. We used my popularity to order to win over more athletes for sport in general, not just the 20 kilometer walk.

How did you go from humble beginnings to an Olympic medal winner?

My poverty drove me to carry on. One has to understand sport as a job. You really have to believe in yourself and always have the will and the desire to change your life. Each one of us is responsible for their own luck.

We heard that before the Olympic Games in London you were not aware of the rules of race walking. Is that true?

Erick Barrondo crosses the finishing line

Erick Barrondo wins the national race walking championships in Guatemala

We had a coach that simply said to us: "Just start moving!" He never explained the rules or the technique to us. When we arrived in London with the team, we didn't even know 20 percent of the rules. We developed under the motto "practice makes perfect." Later, when Bohdan Bulakowski came to Guatemala, we learned a great deal about our sport. This helped us avoided disqualifications based on technical mistakes.

How is the development of athletics in Guatemala going?

Our walking team is known worldwide - they are one of the world's best teams. Sadly, in other disciplines, we are little further back, particularly in the youth department. The focus so far has predominately been on the adults. And we have another problem: In Guatemala, we have a lot of athletes who take part in all events because they are trying to survive of the prize money. That is not ideal.

Have you already turned your attention to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro?

Definitely. The goal is the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. There, we will fight for Guatemala and the gold medal.

After silver in London: What would it mean to you to win gold in Rio?

It would be the greatest achievement of them all. It's my goal. An Olympic gold medal is the greatest achievement for any athlete. It would be a very important achievement for Guatemala and I. My country needs success like this. In Guatemala there's always violence. I think a gold medal could lower the crime rate.

You've already said that an Olympic win would spell retirement for you at just 25-years-old. Is that what you really want?

No. I hope I can continue. I hope that Bogdan Bulakowski (Guatemala's coach) keeps working with us and that after the Olympics we can win at the World Championships as well. That's my dream.

Before Erick Barrondo forged a career in race walking, he was a long-distance runner. The 23-year-old first made an international impression at the Pan American Race Walking Cup in Colombia, where he won silver. His breakthrough came in 2012 at the Olympic Games in London. Barrondo won silver and with it Guatemala's first ever Olympic medal.