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An Interview with Peru's First Winter Olympian

Peruvian cross-country skiier Roberto Carcelen trains on roller-skis at the foot of Sacsayhuaman (Cusco, Peru). Roberto will be the first Peruvian to compete at the winter Olympics.

I came across Roberto Carcelen's story on the internet and it just seemed too good to be true. There was the image of a man rollerskiing in front of the magnificent ruins of Sacsayhuman in Cusco, Peru. If you've ever been to Cusco, you know that the combination of the altitude and the mild climate make it an ideal location for training. However, the thought of rollerskiing there hadn't even occurred to me (and I've thought of rollerskiing in a lot of places...even throughout the streets of Lima).

Having just moved from Peru back to the US (mainly so I could cross-country ski again) I couldn't wait to contact Roberto and ask him about his experiences. So I dug up his email and sent him an interview which he was only too happy to complete. I know that I, for one, will have one more thing to look for at the Vancouver opening ceremonies (the Peruvian flag)! Without further ado, here's my conversation with Roberto Carcelen:

How many other Peruvians are participating in 2010s winter Olympics? Although interest is always high in Peru on the summer Olympics, I don't believe they have even broadcast the winter Olympics in the past, perhaps you will give them reason to do so this year.

So, far i'm the only one who has met the qualification criteria and therefore got a spot in the Olympics. As a matter of fact, I'm the first Peruvian ever to qualify for the Winter Olympics.

Yeah, i don't remember watching the Winter Olympics on TV while living in Peru. I hope the fact that Peru is going to the Winter Olympics would attract more people's interest in knowing more about winter sports.

What is your athletic background and how did you get involved with cross-country skiing?

I grew up surfing, lots of surfing and running too. But surfing was my main thing and I did pretty well at national surfing contests (back in the 90's)

How similiar is the fitness level of cross-country skiing to running, and how well did you make the transition from one to the other?

As you know, the fitness needed for Cross Country Skiing can't be compared to other sports, since, the amount to muscle and oxygen levels used for xc skiing is way greater than, running and the gap is even bigger if you compare it to cycling. Surfing is pretty close though.

I understand that you took it upon yourself to meet the FIS qualifications to get into the Olympics even though you would have been allowed to compete even without meeting them. What was required and why was meeting that standard important to you?

Actually, there is a qualification criteria requirement in order to be in the Olympics, (the NY Times got it wrong there). In fact, it took me a while to meet all requirements. The FIS has 2 requirements: achieve an average of FIS points out of 5 races under 300 points and you have to have raced at the 2009 XC SKi World's in the Czech Republic

What was your first experience in a ski race like? How did it feel to be competing against people in a sport that was new to you, against people who had done it for years?

I kind of picked the sport up pretty quick, my first races were local, regional level I finished 4th overall on my first race and then top 10 in several other Northwest races, I won 2 of them (30km skate) but the story is way different once you hit the major leagues like in the last world's or the Nor Ams, very tough but a great full speed learning system.

3 years is a short amount of time to perfect your technique, where would you say your technique is at by comparrison to skiers from Norway, or Sweeden (countries where XC-skiing is as popular as futbol is in Peru)?

My technique has improved 300% compared to a year ago and still tons of room for improving to be at nordic country levels. I think surfing really helped or gave a base for balance.

What are your expectations for the Olympics?

My goal is to achieve 120 points or under to start some of the World Cup events. Since, The Olympics has zero penalty, it might be a good option. My main goal is to have Peru skiing hard at the Olympics.

Who waxes, stonegrinds and otherwise prepares your skis?

I'm bringing help, some staff to help me with waxing, but my stone grind ski quiver is divided between Nordic Ultratune and Boulder Nordic Sports

What is the role of your coach?

My coach, has been really helping me out to reach the final goal that was getting the under 300 points in. Also, he helped to set a good race pace for me. I'm working with 2 great local athletes to improve technique and fitness. Vesa Suomalainen and Kent Murdoch.

I understand you are involved with Can you tell a little bit more about what that is and how it relates to your training?

I learned of the Chasquis first time I went to the Andes. They were endurance messenger runners from the Inca Empire, they had the role of posting and delivering goods to the Inca royalty running on the Inca Trail system. I got inspired by the ideal of these old Peruvians and the fact the the Inca Trail system is still there, to offer all inclusive running tours on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I ran all those trails several times, they are amazing, best altitude training while visiting the main tourist attractions.

With events like the Lima Media Marathon and the Addidas Marathon, Lima is becoming a city with a lot of superb running events, what are your feelings on that?

I think is great that Peruvians are getting involved in more active events, that's a good sign of a healthy city. I'm bringing a big running event to Lima and a big cause. In conjuction with Al Gore's Live Earth's non profit, i have the rights to set The Dow Live Earth Run for Water Lima, on April 18, 2010 is a series of 6km run/walks (the average distance women and children walk everyday to secure water) taking place over the course of 24 hours in 192 countries, featuring concerts and water education activities to ignite a massive global movement to help solve the water crisis. Please join us, more details to come...

Good luck in Vancouver, you've already made Peru proud!

For those of you who are intersted in learning more about Roberto, you can check out his blog here!

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