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“When there are obstacles, the shortest distance between two points is a crooked line.” The aphorism accredited to the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht can be perfectly applied to Agberto Guimarães' career.
“It’s a process. You don’t go from zero to one hundred in just one jump. You have to pass through all the phases, because when you jump one, your chances to fall on your face are bigger”, teaches the man from Tucuruí, who has 3 Olympic Games on the curriculum as athlete and more than 20 years of experience in sports administration and is the current Sport Director of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee.
“The sport has always been a way for me to get somewhere. I think that’s the difference. I wanted to do what I’m doing, I invested. I’ve worked for this. I’ve passed through the process from the start, learning, listening. It was not a coincidence,” remembers the first Brazilian runner to obtain international sponsorship, participate in an international meeting and win a scholarship in the USA.
It took less than six years between the underfunded countryside of Pará to the best tracks in the world. Discovered with 17 years in a Physical Education class in 1974, Agberto has already risen as the main Brazilian athlete in 800 metres the following year. In 1976, he hit the Brazilian adult record for the first time still as a junior. One more year, and the south-American record was broken. In 1980, Agberto was at the Olympic final in 800 metres in Moscow.
“Besides his talent, he has always had discipline. He had the will to win. He followed the training precisely. If I asked for ten repetitions of 200 metres, he would do it in the time required. In 1974, I went to Germany and said that if he hit the time of 2:15min in the 800 metres when I come back, he would go to Brasília [competing for the High School Tournament]. When I came back, he hit the time of 2:12min”, commented Alberto de Oliveira, Agberto’s first coach and mentor, who has followed him for more than ten years.
“I would say I am a bridge”
“The image of Agberto crying in an interview, after finishing in fourth place in a competition of which he lead part in Moscow, moved me a lot. Then, I thought that when I got to the Olympic Games, I would bring a medal to put an end to that feeling”, remembers Joaquim Cruz, six years younger than Agberto, winner of the gold medal at the same sport event on the following edition of the Olympic Games, in Los Angeles. “He was kind of an older brother. He used and uses the sport to serve people. He enjoyed Athletics and reached the dream of using sport for educational purposes, as a preparation for the end of his career.”
With Agberto’s help, Joaquim was able to know the structure of USA universities, where he developed his potential till the Olympic medal and the Physical Education degree. In common, the Brazilian coach. At this time, Alberto de Oliveira stayed in Brazil, and Luiz Alberto de Oliveira assumed the mission of training Agberto, Joaquim Cruz and another icon of the middle-distance races of the 80’s: Zequinha Barbosa.
“This one I literally put under the wings and took with me”, jokes Agberto. “Even if I paid one hundred million reais, it wouldn’t be enough to thank him. Agberto was our idol, our example,” says Zequinha, with four editions of Olympic Games (1984 to 1996) in the curriculum, medalist in world championships and with bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Marketing and Physical Education.
“Agberto is an easy-going guy. As an athlete, he was always among the best in the world. He was very hard on himself. When he lost a competition, it was a disaster, but he always bounced back. And all of them prioritized the education, which is the most important thing”, says Luiz Alberto, who is known for innovating circuit trainings, friend of Agberto and godfather of his son.
Leader of a memorable generation of the Brazilian Athletics, Agberto hold out the hand to athletes that competed against him at that time, at the same sport events. “This is what I do. It is my priority to create the best environment for my team, so that they can do what they do best. I feel grateful. If I had done all the rest but this, it wouldn’t be so especial. Till today, my role is to make things easier. If I could define myself, I would say I am a bridge. I create a link between one point and the other, I try to guide people along the way”.
Education as a priority on the way to the Olympic summit
In 1999, there were ten years that Agberto has retired from the tracks. The experience in organizing events of the scale of the 1994 Women’s Volleyball World Championship reached the highest point with the invitation from the Brazilian Olympic Committee to plan the Youth Training Centre. He was the General Manager of the Olympic Solidarity Programme – a set of initiatives financed by the IOC with the purpose of reducing the gap of performance between athletes of certain countries. He classified this phase as crucial for his career. The contact with athletes, coaches and sport executives in the area of professional qualification and training, as well as the opportunity of dialoguing with other countries, borne fruit in short term.
When he was working in the area of Sports Development of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, he was responsible, among other tasks, for the athletes’ career transition orientation: “Few athletes as I made this career transition deliberately. The sport has always been a way. I haven’t abandoned anything of my academic professional qualification to the sport career. I would never do that. I believe that prioritizing education is vital for the people and the country.”
The success of the Rio 2007 Pan and Para Pan-American Games, of which he was Sports General Manager, and the fact that Rio has won the bid for the 2016 Games, are symbols of his ambitious trajectory. “We will get to 2016 much better. The Games will leave, as a sport legacy, Training Centres in Rio, that will gather athletes, coaches and sport executives in one place. Brazil will have a new face to present to the world. Eight years after hosting the Games, we will be one of the five major world powers.”
In sport and life, Agberto Guimarães’ history mixes up with the history of the country that has chosen to create the future. Through crooked lines, he was a pioneer and keeps opening doors. From Tucuruí to Brazil and the world, the shortest distance between the past and the future is a bridge, crossed step by step.
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