When one thinks of the Winter Olympics, Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco in Mexico, is not the first place that comes to mind. A child growing up in Guadalajara would be encouraged to play soccer like almost everyone else. People wear Chivas shirts in Jalisco, they don't exactly line up at their televisions to watch ice skating during the Winter Olympics. Most of my family in Jalisco has never seen an ice skating rink, and there are no Olympic-sized ones in Mexico.
Much of Donovan Carrillo's training came on ice rinks inside of shopping malls, surrounded by commerce and shoppers, and people trying to use the ice just for fun. Carrillo is the first Mexican figure skater to compete at the Olympics in 30 years
For Carrillo, none of the voices encouraging him to do something different mattered. One of the few Latin American athletes in Beijing for the Olympics, Carrillo's success has garnered more attention since his career-best performance on Tuesday night which featured a quad toe loop and difficult triple axel, both of which he nailed. Dancing to "Black Magic Woman" by Santana, another icon from the state of Jalisco, Carrillo made his country proud, and by posting his personal best score, he became the first-ever Mexican skater to advance to the free skate.
Defying What's Expected
The young Carrillo seems to completely understand what his performance and even just his appearance in these Winter Olympics can mean and symbolize.
“For me to have the opportunity to be one of the few Latin American athletes here at the Olympics, it’s really something that motivates me to do my best and to inspire more kids in Latin America and in my country to try to practice winter sports. I used to talk this dream with people. They were always laughing or telling me that it was impossible for a Mexican to qualify.”
Per AP, Carrillo is one of 33 athletes from nine Latin American teams. There are four athletes on the Mexico team and only Carrillo stayed in Mexico to train and nurture his abilities. Two others are of Mexican heritage but train in the US or Canada, and Sarah Schleper married a Mexican man and attained dual citizenship. Carrillo is the real deal, and his performance and overall inspiration are permeating with Mexican pride. His blade covers have green, white and red, the colors of the Mexican flag.
“It’s something that I always try to do with my performance, to involve the Mexican culture,” Carrillo said. “Carlos Santana is Mexican. I always try to take on different artists that could help me and motivate me to represent my country.”
For Carrillo, defying the odds to compete in the Olympics didn't end at family or the culture around him, normally devoid of ice skating. The sheer lack of training facilities where he is from would make even learning the sport a serious challenge. Becoming one of the best in the world at a sport where you can barely practice? That is a true achievement on all its own. It may be difficult for Carrillo to break through the soccer-based Mexican obsession, but he's certainly going to do it. He inspires pride for me personally, as my family is also from Jalisco.