Earlier in February, ITU Secretary General Loreen Barnett spent a week in Costa Rica to visit with the National Federation and the National Olympic Committee (NOC). Here, in her own words, is Loreen’s experience there:
I recently traveled to Costa Rica to fulfill a long-standing invitation from Christina Gonzalez, NF President and Silvia Gonzalez, NOC Secretary General. While in Costa Rica I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the headquarters of the Costa Rican National Olympic Committee. Interestingly the building that houses the NOC headquarters—which sits are a large acreage on the outskirts of San Jose—was the mansion of a drug lord now serving a lengthy jail sentence. The building was confiscated by the government and given to the NOC.
While at the NOC Headquarters I had a good meeting with Henry Nuňuz, President of the NOC and Silvia and the staff. Among the topics of conversation was the prospects of Costa Rica hosting an international event and hosting more development activities for the region. This is enthusiastically supported by Henry Nuňuz and his senior staff.
I also met with Marc Faraci, the NOC Chief Administration Officer. He is responsible for general administration and financial operations as well as athlete funding and particularly the resources available through Olympic Solidarity. Marc is Swiss, born in Geneva and has a sports business degree from Lausanne University. He is married to a Costa Rican woman and has immigrated to his new homeland. While in Lausanne he did several projects with Olympic Solidarity so is a tremendous resource having already proven his worth in acquiring significant funding for athletes and coaches. Marc told me that he would be very happy to assist other NOCs in the region to acquire similar resources for their triathletes and coaches.
The NOC is just completing a major development project which included removing 45 diseased pine trees from its property. With significant funding from Olympic Solidarity, they used the trees to build housing for up to 48 athletes attending courses, camps and seminars.
They were successful in securing the Olympic Solidarity funding as a Sport and the Environment project. Through collaboration with a local lumber producer, they were able to offer half the trees in exchange for the services to cut the trees into the required dimensions to build the housing area.
The project is nearing completion and will be fully operational soon. Each of the 12 large rooms in the dormitory will house 6 athletes or coaches and have full shower and bath facilities. The dining area and catering kitchen is located in the main building.
I also spent a delightful afternoon with Christina Gonzalez touring the province of Cartago which is where Roberto Solano has his high altitude training centre. The athletes sleep at over 2000m on the slope of Irazu, the country’s highest volcano and train in the pristine valley below, which is famous for its coffee plantations. Roberto is applying the principle of live high, train low. Athletes from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Hungary were in residence at the camp preparing for the upcoming season.
That evening I was invited to attend a meeting of the federation and the event production company “Unlimited”, which stages most of their events including the National Series. I was delighted to witness the collegial atmosphere of the meeting as well as the blend of young, energetic people with the wisdom and experience that comes with age. Christina is doing a wonderful job of steering the group and everyone is pulling together.
The two young brothers who own Unlimited are full of energy and enthusiasm. They work very well with the federation and the national technical officials. They are also very interested in improving their skills. They are working with Rodolfo Beech, who is a retired project manager. He is helping them develop a business plan and market their events.
The following day we all attended the pre-event media conference organized by Unlimited and the federation. The main speakers at the event were Henry Nuňuz, President of the NOC and Carlos Ricardo Benavides, Minister of Tourism and Sport for the Costa Rican government. There were three television channels in attendance along with all of the key daily newspapers and radio stations. I commented that it was an indication of the strength of the support in the country to have both the President of the NOC and the Minister of Tourism and Sport in attendance.
On the weekend we made the four-hour drive to Conchal where the federation hosted one of the events in the new USA-based Revolution3 series. This series offers the entire range of events from Ironman distance to sprint and is focused on “the age group experience”. On the insistence of the federation they had moved the prize money purse of $35,000USD from the half Ironman event to the “standard” distance.
The Rev3 group has made a partnership with the federation and the event production company, Unlimited. I was very impressed with the technical qualities of the event as well as the over 600 participants who were very satisfied with their experience, despite the hot conditions and one of the most challenging bike and run courses I have ever seen.
I also think it was a first that Henry Nunuz got out of bed at 4:30am to ensure he saw the start of the elite race. I’m not aware of any other NOC President who has done this in the history of our sport.
When Leonardo Chacon won the race by over three minutes against the likes of Matt Reed and Manuel Huerta, the place went a little nutty. The front page of Naciono, the country’s largest daily was nothing but the story of the race and their triathlon hero.