Spikes09 Jul 2020

A Promise


Anthony Zambrano

by Anthony Zambrano

After I won the medal, I made a promise.

I had just finished second in the world 400m final in Doha, and one of the first people I spoke to was my mother. She was at home in Colombia and, as you can imagine, it was an emotional phone call.

She had always been confident I would achieve my goals and during that conversation, I expressed my gratitude. I told her our life would now change for the better, that we could look forward to a better future.

Then I made a second promise. This one was to God.

Growing up, I knew what it was like to have nothing, and the sadness that would hit you at Christmastime. I’m a very Catholic person, so I promised God that on the 24th of December every year, I would donate food and gifts to the kids in my area – do something small to ease the pain of the holidays and bring some joy to those with so little.

I know what those kids are going through. I was once one of them.

I was born in Maicao, grew up in Barranquilla, and it was a very difficult upbringing.

As a kid, I was always fast. When I’d play hide and seek with my friends, I could always outrun them on the street, and it was a PE teacher who first got me into athletics.

No one else in my family was into sport, but after finishing second in the Colombian schools championships over 300 metres, I knew I had a future in it.

The big turning point was in 2015. The World U18 Championships were in Cali, Colombia, and I surprised everyone by making the final of the 400m, lowering my PB to 46.27.

Anthony Zambrano

That week, I met Nelson Gutiérrez, an Ecuadorian coach who told me that if I worked with him, he could get me to the Rio Olympics the following year and turn me into a top athlete as a senior.

Cali was also where I met Caterine Ibargüen, a living legend in Colombia.

Growing up, I always looked up to her and Usain Bolt. Up to that point, I was still playing football and dreamed of becoming a professional, but Caterine told me athletics is less political, that success in this sport depends purely on your individual performance.

She inspired me to follow this path, to aim as high as I possibly could.

A year later, the promise Nelson made to me in Cali came true. I ran at the Rio Olympics, racing the 4x400m for Colombia. It was a big stage for an 18-year-old and I was so nervous, but that experience allowed me to envision myself at the top.

The journey to where I am now has not been easy.

Anthony Zambrano

This can be an expensive sport and in those early years, it was a struggle to find support. I had to raise what money I could to go to races and to train in Ecuador with Nelson. Without the support of him, his group, and my physio, Caridad Martinez, none of this could be possible.

In 2017, I missed the whole season with an ankle injury after stepping in a hole at the track. That also affected me in 2018, but last year I knew things were starting to click.

By then I had spent almost four years training with Nelson’s group, which includes great Ecuadorian sprinters like Álex Quiñónez and Ángela Tenorio.

I went into the World Championships very confident.

I had won gold at the Pan American Games and before Doha my coach told me I had done everything I could to be ready, physically and mentally, and that I could win a medal.

We just didn’t know which colour.

It turned out to be silver, and an added bonus was breaking the South American record with my 44.15.

Anthony Zambrano

That race changed my life. Before it I was unknown in my home country, but now I’m a respected figure, the first Colombian to win a World Championships medal in a track event. I was invited to meet the Colombian President, Iván Duque Márquez, which was a mind-blowing experience.

We exchanged stories about sport – he was a football player back in the day – and he said that what I did for Colombia was remarkable. He told me to keep pushing towards the top and whatever I needed, he would back me up, no matter what.

Since Doha life has been hectic. People ask me for photos now and kids reach out to me for advice. I feel a responsibility to all of them, to lead by example and tell my story so they can be inspired to go after the biggest goals.

Of course, it’s been a lot harder to chase my own goals these past few months. Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to train properly, doing 40-50 percent of what I normally do.

I had big goals for this year, not only for the Olympics, and preparation had been great until things started to change in March.

When I see athletes in Europe or the United States getting back to training and competitions, I feel a little anguish, but I hope things calm down so I can get out to race, even just once, before starting a new preparation for 2021.

My aim for next year is already set, a promise to myself this time: win an Olympic medal.

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