When Rommel Pacheco looks in the rearview mirror, he sees the talented boy who sprouted in Yucatán. At the age of eleven he left home to move to the facilities of the Centro Deportivo Olímpico Mexicano. He wanted to be a vintage diver. Today, at 34, he is. He has been a world champion and one of the most influential athletes in his country. He has sought for more than two decades to win an Olympic medal. Tokyo is the end of the road. But Pacheco has the plan outlined after retirement: get into the political arena as a federal deputy. The boy with the easy smile wants to jump one last time.
Mexico has shone in the Olympics from the springboard. Diving have given the delegation 14 Olympic medals. The grasshopper Pacheco got hooked, he wanted to be one of the laureate divers. “His mom commissioned us to do it. It was one of the smallest. He entered as a distinguished athlete and everyone esteemed him. I saw how he started training ”, Felipe tells EL PAÍS Warm Muñoz, Mexican medalist in swimming in Mexico 68. “When I covered the sport linked to Olympians, at the end of the 90s, they told me about the successor of the diver of the moment and they told me that the kid Rommel was the new Fernando Platas”, he recalls Antonio Rosique the journalist and host of TV Azteca. Platas won a medal at Sydney 2000.
The Yucatecan gave up being a normal teenager to dedicate himself, full time, to being an athlete. Pacheco’s environment prompted him to study, which would serve him well. And so he graduated in Administration, something that would serve him well over the years. The successes began to fall to Rommel Pacheco. His first international milestone was gold at the 2003 Pan American Games. At the age of 19 he attended his first Olympics in Athens 2004 and finished in tenth place. Pacheco has won three Pan American golds and two silvers, but the medals have resisted him at the Games. In Beijing 2008 he finished eighth, in 2012 he did not qualify and in 2016, in Rio, he finished seventh in the individual event and fifth in synchronized.
Pacheco’s peak moment was in 2016, in the diving world championship. Pacheco gave his best display and won gold. A fine from the International Swimming Federation to Mexico prevented its best diver and at its best from wearing the national colors. The Mexican sang the hymn a cappella and with a shirt of the character Popeye the Sailor Man. Nobody could take away the smile, not even the embarrassment that the swimming authority of his country made him pass. She also won second place in mixed synchronized jump with Viviana del Ángel.
“Rommel has all the qualities like speed, elasticity. He is a diver who the judges like to rate for his technique. Now he is an experienced athlete who knows how to compete. It can be an important issue to stay calm in Tokyo. You don’t have to have a perfect competition, but a constant one ”, he considers Fernando Platas, the historic Mexican diver. “I admire Rommel’s work, in the team we see him with too much respect,” says Juan Celaya, who will also attend this year’s Olympic Games.
“Divers are very outgoing. They enter everything, they have a gift of people ”, says the Warm Muñoz. Pacheco, when training allowed, has escaped to participate in reality shows. One of them has been Exatlon, a television phenomenon created in Turkey that arrived in Mexico in 2017. In the program, two teams of athletes physically compete in different disciplines. Pacheco was part of the first season. “One day he handed me a piece of paper with things he wanted me to comment on while he was competing. He wrote me that his dream was to be governor of Yucatán. Not all athletes did the same. Sometimes I have to ask the participants what their dreams are, their goals. I narrate thousands of runs and Rommel had the vision. He has a great sense of marketing ”, explains Rosique, Exatlón driver.
Charisma has been key for Pacheco. This has earned him thousands of followers in all his social networks, being a magnet for advertisements and for television. “I see him as a tremendous negotiator. In the Exatlón it is very difficult for you to get out. Either they eliminate you or you do everything because they eliminate you or you leave due to injury. He is the type who has achieved a negotiation to leave: he had the diplomacy to leave as a hero to compete for Mexico in the Central American Games, ”adds Antonio Rosique.
Pacheco took another turn in his career by running as a candidate for federal deputy for the conservative PAN party. And the results proclaimed him the winner of a place in Congress, in a masterful move because, after competing in Japan, he will end his sports career and that will no longer imply any conflict of interest with the Mexican sports authorities. If he had made him younger, he would lose his athletic scholarships.
The leap into politics by Mexican athletes has been viewed with some suspicion. The most notorious case has been that of Cuauhtémoc Blanco, soccer idol, who has managed to be Mayor of Cuernavaca and today Governor of the State of Morelos without finishing his high school studies. “There are athletes who no longer get scholarships or resources and decide to retire. Some are unemployed and have no work experience except in their sports discipline. Some transfer their sports careers to political office. In Rommel’s case, his interest in helping his community is legitimate ”, considers Rosique.
“Athletes as citizens also have the right to participate. Pacheco has the moral quality and the ability. He did it at a very planned time and it serves to promote his example ”, considers Platas, who has been a public official in the State of Mexico at the head of the physical culture and sports office. “Young people like him are needed in politics,” adds the Warm Muñoz.
Pacheco will be the Mexican standard-bearer for Tokyo 2020, an award for his career. “What sport sometimes gives is not even given by politics, the president [Andrés Manuel López Obrador] he will be handing over the flag to an elected PAN deputy, today that dialogue is scarce, sport unites in diversity, ”Bernardo de la Garza, former Mexican sports commissioner, wrote in a tweet.
Rommel Pacheco will have his last test in the Tokyo pool. “You will need the coldness. You can draw on all your experiences, your fang and your mistakes so you don’t make them again. You do not have to make a perfect competition, but a constant one. So many years and he has not lost his positive attitude or hunger ”, considers Platas. From the three-meter springboard, Pacheco wants to close his cycle with the medal that has taken 20 years to hang.
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