Economic crisis pummels Venezuelan sport, hinders Olympics athletes

Thu Jun 9, 2016 10:02am EDT
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By Diego Oré

MARACAY, Venezuela (Reuters) - Every morning, Venezuelan archer Elias Malave picks up his old bow, attaches a handful of well-worn arrows to his belt and trains for five hours on an empty field, without a coach.

It could be any amateur sportsman's routine. But Malave, 26, is a multiple national champion and one of Venezuela's first athletes to classify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The South American OPEC nation's brutal economic crisis has squeezed state funding for elite athletes, meaning many lack coaching, train with inadequate equipment and in some cases are pleading for donations to fund themselves.

"The (government) response is always the same: 'There's no money,'" said Malave, who receives a small state stipend but confesses that a friendly karate fighter shares vitamin supplements with him because he does not have enough.

It is a sad turn of affairs in a nation whose socialist government had in recent years put great store on sport, much like past Olympic triumphs of political bedfellows Cuba, China or the old Soviet Union.

Malave, who came close to the final eight at his first Olympics in London in 2012, made the cut for Rio last July, along with 71 other Venezuelan athletes so far.

But since classification, he has missed a test of the installations in Rio, a world championship in Las Vegas and various training camps abroad with his Russian coach Alexander Kirillov. In fact, he finally saw Kirillov only last month on a trip to Colombia after half a year of long-distance coaching via e-mail.

"Not seeing my coach for a month is OK, but seven months is too much," he said during a break in training at a rundown sports center in the central city of Maracay where he lives. "I thought things would change after I qualified, but they didn't."   Continued...

Venezuela's Elias Malave fires an arrow during the men's individual round of 32 eliminations at the Lord's Cricket Ground during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 30, 2012. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem/File Photo