After boxing hopeful Osmar Bravo defeated his opponent Monday to progress into the next stage of the Olympic Games in London and put himself in medal contention, the Nicaragua team must have been optimistic about its Cinderella chances as its next two athletes prepared for their debut performances yesterday in swimming and weightlifting.
Swimmer Omar Núñez was to go first. Competing in Men’s 100m freestyle, the Nicaraguan hoped his experience gained from competing in the Beijing Olympic Games four years ago would give him a slight advantage against younger competitors in the pool. Unfortunately, his years of dedicated training were not enough to get him into this year’s competition; the Nicaraguan swimmer finished second to last in his heat, recording a time of 57.11 seconds—3.85 seconds slower than the winner Esau Simpson, from Grenada.
This year’s Nicaraguan swim team of Núñez and Dalia Torres, who swam last Saturday and failed to qualify despite setting a new personal best, joins a short but growing list of swimmers who have represented Nicaragua at the Olympic Games. Frank Richardson Jr. and Camapri Knoeffler were the first to compete in 1976.
At 28, Núñez was included on Nicaragua’s Olympic team as a “wildcard,” a scheme aimed at giving nations new to the Games the opportunity to compete and to adhere to the principle of universality. For years ago Núñez was also part of the Olympic team that travelled to Beijing, where he finished last in his heat in the Men’s 50m Freestyle category. Núñez also competed in the 2006 Pan American Games, where he finished second in the 400m freestyle and third in the 1,500m freestyle.
Núñez, a graduate of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, is an English teacher in Managua. In an interview with El Nuevo Diario before the Games, he talked frankly about his chances of success, saying, “Let’s be realistic, I won’t get any medal.” Núñez also explained his training routine, which starts every morning at 4:45 a.m at the pool the American College, where he teaches English. Then he trains for several hours each morning with his father, who is also his trainer.
According to Núñez, he achieved a personal best in training of 56.46 seconds for the 100 metres. During his performance in yesterday’s race, he was just .65 tenths of a second over this personal best time. In the end, Núñez came in 51st out of the 60 competitors. Despite this, Núñez put in a fantastic effort, recording a time three seconds behind the Nicaraguan national record (54 seconds set by Víctor López Cantera) and just a few arm lengths behind the winner of the heat.
Núñez is aware he may not have many more years of swimming left and wants to focus on his next dream of becoming a pilot, he told El Nuevo Diario.
The Weight of the Country on her Shoulders
The second Nicaraguan to compete yesterday was weightlifter Lucia Castañeda. One of the more accomplished athletes on the Nicaraguan team, Castañeda had a heavy load on her shoulders—both physically and metaphorically. Taking part in the 63kg category, she weighed in as one of the heaviest of the 10 competitors.
In her youth, Castañeda, now 31, tried boxing before discovering a passion for weightlifting. From 2006 to 2008, she consecutively came in first at each of the three Central American Games. But in 2009 disaster struck when she was diagnosed with a herniated disc and was forced into retirement from the sport for the next three years. Thankfully her injury became better and due to the “wildcard” scheme, she was invited to participate in this year’s Olympic Games.
Stepping out for her first lift of three, she hefted the 76kg weight with ease. Although one judge questioned her technique for not locking her elbows fully and signalled for a red light. But two white lights overruled the one red light and she returned backstage to prepare for her next lift. The barbell’s weight was increased and Castañeda returned to face 79kg.
As Olympic rules dictate, weightlifting has two distinct phases. The first phase is called the “snatch.” The weightlifter must raise the bar high above their head in a squatting position, and then with the power of their thighs, stand with the bar still above their heads. This usually involves a lower weight. The second phase is called the “clean and jerk.” In this round the competitor must lift the bar onto their chest in front of their shoulders, and then jerk it above their head with straight elbows. Each competitor has three lifts in each of the phases and the heaviest lift of each phase is added together for their total.
With her second lift in the “snatch,” Castañeda dropped the bar. But she was eager and decided to follow herself out just 30 seconds later to perform her final lift of the phase. She charged straight back out, dusted her hands with chalk and lifted the 79kg clean above her head.
After a 30 minute break while the remaining nine competitors complete their “snatch,” she was called back out to begin her “clean and jerk.” After some mix up between Castañeda and the 19 year old Peruvian competitor over who was supposed to compete first, the Nicaraguan finally made her way out to attempt her first lift of 91kg. She was successful, although the commentators called it a “safe opener.”
For the last two lifts the weight was raised to 97kg. On her second attempt she failed but with a showman-like finish she raised the bar clean above her head in her final lift of the day. It also turned out to be her final lift of the Olympics.
In the end, Castañeda finished ninth, recording a combined score of 176kg, four kilograms ahead of her Latin American rival from Peru. Unfortunately, this means that she will not progress any further, but for the moment she can now enjoy the rest of the Games in London as a spectator, cheering on the remaining three Nicaraguan competitors.
David Hutt is a freelance writer from London, UK, who will be on the trail of Latin America during the next year and will be working as a tour guide in Leon, Nicaragua. Follow his travels and misadventures on his blog.