Dive, taekwondo and archery are the sport disciplines in which Jesus Mena, chairman of the National Commission of Physical Culture and Sports (CONADE is the Spanish acronym), foresees that Mexico is likely to be on the podium in the 17th Panamerican Games, Toronto 2015.
In an exclusive interview given to PanamericanWorld, Mr. Mena, who won a silver medal in diving board back in 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, said that he finds hard to predict what sports could make Mexico stand out, with a delegation made up of nearly 300 athletes (47 have already qualified), who will be competing for their presence in 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
According to Mena, surpassing the results obtained four years ago in Guadalajara Panamerican Games will be the true challenge. CONADE is the organization in charge of fostering physical culture, recreation and sports in Mexico.
How many athletes make up the delegation?
We’re talking about some 300 athletes and, of course, there are different qualifications, but that’s the number we have in our mind. With the passing of time, that figure will be specified; we still have several months to make the nominal registration, so we can say the athlete’s name and competition. We’re going to do that in early May.
What’s the training process?
The Panamerican Games are a great challenge for us as a country, and there are several reasons. One of those refers to the fact that Mexico hosted the previous Games, in Guadalajara, four years ago. On the other hand, in some sports it entails the qualification to 2016 Rio Olympic Games and the task is hard to achieve, especially for a country that was the previous venue. I’m not saying this because of Mexico, but that’s an universally fact; so the national teams are training very hard and some of the members have already qualified with the results obtained last year, so they have a different training program.
DO NOT GIVE MEDALS IN ADVANCE
When Mexico has hosted the Panamerican Games the results have been excellent, ranking third in 1955 and four years ago in Guadalajara. What’s the expectation?
If you analyze what happens when the Panamerican Games or the Olympics take place at any city, you’ll realize that the result is better or higher than previous editions. We, like any organizing country, obviously took advantage of the local condition, we made the most of it, but it’s far different in Toronto. In fact, the competing program is not the same that Guadalajara Games’. There are some modifications. For instance, there is no pelota court like the one we had in Guadalajara and our results were great, with several medals. So, the truth is that I don’t like making predictions or speculating about the number of medals, and I have many reasons.
And he adds: “I was an athlete many years ago and I never liked having an outsider saying that I was going to win or not. On the other hand, I can guarantee and underline that all Mexican athletes competing in Toronto will do their best to succeed.
NO TO INVITATIONS
Sometimes there are problems with special invitations to athletes. What are you going to do so as to avoid complaints on guest athletes?
Now that you mention it, most of the time the athletes win their position in the court, course or swimming pool, but sometimes they are invited and that’s when problems begin: “she went there because they are friends”. As the matter of fact, the Mexican Olympic Committee has adopted a policy, and we totally support it, that straight away says no to these wildcards. Not from the outset because it brings about problems, but the situations have to be crystal-clear.
For instance, would it be applied in the case of a sportsman that is presently injured and is undergoing a recovery process?
It’s not normally applied in that case. For example (and this is usually done in the Olympic Games, or it was), when the quota you had established for certain event is reduced because of any injured sportsman, or some places have been reserved for other countries based on ranking or any criterion followed by the international federation, this invitation is issued to participate in the Games. That’s what happens in the Olympics and a clear example is related to the Youth Olympic Games, where twelve positions qualify to the finals, nine plus the venue, and two universal spaces. We analyze it as an exception.
We respect your opinion on predictions, but I’m sure you have identified different activities in which the Mexican team is highly competitive.
There is no doubt about the Mexican team’s competitiveness level and we have publically expressed it since we were invited to join CONADE. Mexico plays the leading role in three sports: dive, taekwondo and archery, and we know that it is going to be a different competing situation, just like Guadalajara. In the case of dive, it was the first time in history that Mexico, during the Guadalajara Games, won all gold medals, both in solo and team events. We won everything in gold, but one gold-silver combination. Canada is also a diving power and they are going to be home. United States and other American countries are also strong in that field. Mexico is actually good in the Pan-American and world context, but it won’t be easy to obtain the same results.
And he underscores: “The support of the public was very exciting. Along with the three sports I just mentioned, we have other disciplines with great potential: target shooting with gun, cycling, equestrian sports and some others. We have identified sport disciplines where we’re going to compete at the highest level.”
Are the doubts on the competitive potential related to the team participation?
We have made progress, the country has made significant progress. For example, in the case of basketball we were good last year, but there were big contrasts because we had positive results in the World Championship and our performance was poor during the Central American Games. Now we see a remarkable improvement.
I must also highlight the fact that we qualified with two teams, female and male, for the World Volleyball Championship. That speaks of the progress. In terms of soccer, both female and male teams won the Central American Games, we have the gold Olympic medal; so there is progress even with team sports, perhaps it’s not as fast as we want, but the process takes many years and our volleyball teams are the perfect example: we have worked for years to have these teams.
Why is Mexico that good in terms of solo sports, unlike team sports?
I think that we are good at playing sports that have been related to virtuous circles with result-support-result. This chain has received constant feedback and that reality has made Mexico be competitive in some sports. Perhaps it also has to do with a budget issue, as it’s easier to send three or four people to a world tour, instead of having 25 people traveling. In light of the events and competitions we have witnessed over the past years, I believe that we being good only in solo sports is a taboo, as facts have made that idea fade away, step by step.