Mon, 15 Dec 2003

Penniless Xavier endures both on and off track

Musthofid The Jakarta Post Hanoi

Timor Leste's Xavier Do Rego was exhausted when he finished the men's marathon inside My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi on Friday.

Xavier, as he prefers to be called, came third last, meaning the Timor Leste contingent is yet to win a medal in its first turnout at the SEA Games, a biennial sporting showcase in the Southeast Asian region.

Despite the result, Xavier was far from displeased with his performance.

Being aware of the tough opposition from other participants, he said he had not come to win a medal.

"I have come to gain experience. I have been looking to improve my own mark," Xavier said.

Xavier shrugged off financial strains to register a time of 2:34:50 to break his best of 2:41 he set during the Asian Games 2002 in Busan, South Korea. "I feel satisfied because I have been able to improve my record."

For the runner who had been training for only one month, the performance proved Xavier's ability to rise to the challenge.

The achievement is greater when one considers that Xavier is broke.

With only US$5 in his pocket when he arrived, Xavier said he had already spent it.

"I bought soap, an orange, and other things. I have no more money. When I complained to the delegation head, he said 'Where do you think we can get more money from?'," Xavier said.

Xavier, who splits his time between training and construction work, said he was used to hardship as he was not funded to train.

The team, comprising 12 athletes, was invited to participate by the organizing committee, who paid for the team's flights and accommodation.

Led by chef-de-mission Joao Carascalao, the squad competed in karate, tae kwon do, boxing, tennis, weight lifting and the marathon.

Like Xavier, Aquelino Manuel Da Costa did not appear to be too concerned with his unsuccessful attempt in the karate competition.

"This is the first time we have participated in the SEA Games. We are not dreaming of victory," said Da Costa, who was eliminated in the first round of the men's 60kg category.

Xavier and Da Costa were hopeful that they would be able to improve next season.

Like what most athletes dream of, Xavier had set his sights on the 2004 Olympics, which has set the marathon qualifying time at 2:36:00.

"The selection for the team will be next February," he said, while calling on the Timor Leste sports authority to pay more attention to the athletes' needs.