Bolivia’s Olympic hopeful trains atop the Andes
HUARINA, Bolivia—She trains atop the Andes where others can barely breathe: Bolivian psychologist Claudia Balderrama left her family and career behind to chase dreams of glory at the Olympics.
The soft-spoken 29-year-old is one of the world’s top race walkers and has an outside chance of bringing back Bolivia’s first ever Olympic medal.
“I worked very hard to get a good qualification time for London,” the athlete told AFP, accompanied by her trainers, Bolivian Duberty Flores and Mexican Raul Gonzalez.
Balderrama is part of the Latin American nation’s small Olympic delegation, which includes marathon runner Bruno Rojas, swimmers Karen Torrez and Andrew Rutherford, and Juan Carlos Perez, who competes in shooting.
Balderrama trains in the Andean highlands, near Lake Titicaca and the Peruvian border, sometimes on the highest track in the world, Cerro Chacaltaya, at nearly 18,000 feet (5,300 meters).
“She has enormous potential,” said Gonzalez.
Balderrama’s trainers hope she will finish among the top 10 in London at her preferred distance, the 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) walk, but believe she might not reach her full potential until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“She finished the Race Walk World Championship in Moscow in one hour, 35 minutes and 54 seconds,” coming in 29th out of 106, said Flores.
Training at high altitude allows athletes’ bodies to generate greater amounts of red blood cells to compensate for the lack of oxygen, which puts them at an advantage when competing at sea level.
“It’s like (competing) with an oxygen tank on your shoulder,” Flores explained.
Balderrama begins her day at 8:00 am with warm-up exercises then race walks for two to three hours, morning and afternoon, seven days a week.
She will keep training in Bolivia until August 6, when she will travel to London to compete on August 11, according to the Bolivian Athletics Federation.