Summer Olympics preview: ‘Grande’ Nery Brenes

July 27, 2012

From the print edition

Costa Rica has a meager history at the Olympics: four medals – including one gold – all won by two sisters. 

Besides Claudia and Silvia Poll, no other athlete has represented Costa Rica atop the winners’ podium. But entering this year’s Olympic Games, which kick off tonight in London, Costa Rica has a shot at its first medal since 2000. 

Eleven athletes will represent Costa Rica. But the country’s Olympic hopes rest on the slender shoulders of lightning-quick Limonense Nery Brenes.

More Olympians 

Laura Meza, 21,

Swimming

July 28

Andrey Amador, 25,

Cycling, Road Race

July 28

Mario Montoya, 22,

Swimming

July 29

Osman Murillo, 26,

Judo

July 30

Gabriela Traña, 29,

Marathon

Aug. 5

Sharolyn Scott, 28,

400m hurdles

Aug. 5, 6

Leo Chacón, 28,

Triathlon

Aug. 7

Heiner Oviedo 23,

Tae kwon do

Aug. 8

Paolo Montoya, 27,

Cycling, Mountain Bike

Aug. 12

César Lizano, 30,

Marathon

Aug. 12

Marathoner Gabriela Traña will carry the country’s flag at Friday’s opening ceremony.

Meanwhile, Brenes, 26, and Olympic hurdler Sharolyn Scott, 28, are training in Colombia before flying to Spain on Saturday. Brenes will land in England on Aug. 1, three days before his first race in the 400-meter sprint.

Most Costa Rican athletes will be competing against their personal bests at the games. But Brenes, a classic underdog story, enters the Olympics having the best year of his career and a shot at a medal, as he tries to top his 10th-place finish at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

“He’s an athlete that the harder the challenge, the better the results,” said Henry Núñez, president of Costa Rica’s Olympic Committee. 

Brenes’ arrival in London completes a comeback that has tested the star athlete from Costa Rica’s

Caribbean coast. As a teen, Brenes trained on a dilapidated track in his hometown, the port city of Limón. 

Even as he excelled as a track star, he received almost no support from the  Olympic Committee at the time. It was  Brenes’ talent that got him to Beijing, Núñez said.

This time Brenes has assistance from all sides: Sponsors, friends on the Olympic Committee, nutritionists and an expert coach surround the popular athlete, which could help him surpass his semifinals appearance at the 2008 Olympics. Brenes already has scored two gold medals in the past year. He placed first in the 400-meter race at October’s Pan-American Games in Mexico and was crowned world champion at indoor track finals in Turkey last March. 

Brenes also enters the games with a chip on his shoulder after sponsors abandoned him following an injury in 2009.

But taking down the world’s best 400-meter sprinter and 2008 gold medal winner LaShawn Merritt, from the United States, will be a challenge. 

Brenes did beat another favorite at the indoor championships, Grenada’s Kirani James, who ran an uncharacteristically bad race and finished sixth. Merritt did not participate. 

If Brenes runs his best race, it should be enough to put him among the best in the world and onto the medal stand.

Núñez said another Tico surprise could be Heiner Oviedo, who will compete in tae kwon do. The 23-year-old, in the 58-kilogram weight class, won an international tournament in Austria last month.

“Much of it depends on who his opponents are, and how he develops throughout the competition,” Núñez said. “But he’s an athlete that just won a world championships and he’s going to be very, very motivated.”

Watching the Olympics

Where: Channel 6 (Repretel) and 4

Opening ceremony: July 27, 1:30 p.m.

Closing ceremony: August 12, 1:45 p.m.

Nery’s first race: August 4, 3:35 p.m.

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