(ATR) The 2016 decision by the IOC to add surfing, karate and skateboarding into the 2020 Olympics has opened a torrent of interest in sports which are not very visible in Argentina.
Santiago Muniz celebrates winning 2018 UR ISA World Surfing Games, qualifying for Lima 2019 (ISA/Ben Reed)
Structural changes for sports bodies, economic support and recognition have been among the effects. Then the Pan American Games in Lima this July became the first step to reach the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games for these new sports.
At the national level, the Argentina Sports Agency had to reorganize its priorities and start treating the three sports in a different way. Initially, none of them received financial support. But now a selected group of athletes are getting help. The aid includes a scholarship, access to the Center of High Performance, hiring new coaches, travel funding for competitions and training have all been the result of the increased attention.
Surfers Prepare for Lima
Short board surfing has three athletes qualified for Lima 2019: Santiago Muñiz, Leandro Usuna and Ornella Pellizzari. In addition, Juliana González and Franco Faccini, will compete in stand up paddling. While SUP is not an Olympic sport, it is a Pan-American discipline, so those athletes are also now included in the Sports Agency's orbit.
Realities have changed for these five athletes as well as five others who did not qualify.
No longer do they need to look for sponsors to finance their studies. Now they can pursue intense training, not only in Argentina but around the world. They will arrive in Lima ten days before the start of the Pan American Games to acclimate and learn the characteristics of the waves at the venue on the Pacific Ocean.
"In addition to the scholarship, they give us a support to travel to train, as this previous trip to Lima, which is a good strategy for the competition since we are going to fully know the waves", explains Ornella Pellizzari, who qualified for the Pan American Games after finishing sixth in the Pan American championships in 2018.
"Our reality changed. While I continue training on my own and choosing when and where to compete, having the support of the Agency allows us to have a hundred percent focus on surfing and not be worried about financing and setting up trips according to our sponsors ", says Pellizzari, 31, who is confident in qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
"Little by little we are opening the way. It is impressive to see how surfing grows in the country and that we can contribute our bit,” says Muñiz, a 2019 world champion.
"There is a hotbed of new surfers very good, that we have to encourage. Now we are in the Olympic cycle, we are starting to see the steps to qualify,” adds Leandro Usuna, who like other surfers and extreme sports athletes in Argentina must have a parallel job to support themselves economically.
Usuna, 32, has a surf school in Mar del Plata. For his part, Pellizzari is a lifeguard and works during the summer season on the beaches of Mar del Plata.
Karate Generates Excitement
Yamila Benitez wins bronze in karate at Cochabamba 2018 (Facebook @argamdeporte)
The addition of karate has generated great excitement, especially with the sport part of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
This raised the motivations and opportunities for Argentine karate athletes. It has also inspired more young people to join the sport.
New tournaments were organized within the discipline and the possibility of traveling abroad to compete with the best became regular.
"We are all very happy with the incorporation of karate in the Games. It is a dream come true,” says Yamila Benítez, bronze medalist at the 2018 ODESUR Games in Cochabamba.
“I grew up in the karateka world, and although I was always within the framework of support from the national sports, the Olympic context put us back on the map,” says Benítez.
"Now we feel a lot more support from them and we have the possibility to travel more to competitions, to have more international exposure.. Being able to compete in the European leagues, knowing the rivals allows us to raise our level and that shows with the medals we are getting,” says Benitez.
Skateboarders Living A Dream
Sandro Moral (Getty Images)
Skateboard may be the sport to gain the most from its new Olympic status. This extreme sport has very call following in Argentina. There are few tournaments or athletes who really train in a professional or semi-professional way.
Since its presence in Tokyo 2020 became a fact, little by little a structure was built. A federation has been formed leading to the selection of five athletes for the national team who all hail from Mar del Plata. New parks have been built to encourage practice and the spread of skateboard.
It was also included as an official discipline for the first time in the ODESUR Beach games held in March in Rosario, Argentina. Sandro Moral, 25, the top Argentine skateboarder, won the gold medal over rivals from Colombia and Peru.
"In the absence of an Argentine professional circuit, as one of the conditions to receive the scholarship, we have to participate in three events before the Pan American appointment and have good results,” explains Moral.
Now with the Olympic Games as their main objective, Moral says skateboarders can achieve results unimaginable a few years ago. But he says there is no automatic place for him in Tokyo next year.
"I always dreamed of being an Olympic athlete and I'm very close. But to get to Tokyo I have to continue training every day,” he says.
Reported from Buenos Aires by Olivia Diaz Ugalde.
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