ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Roberto Carcelen finished last but became an unlikely hero of the men’s 15km classic on Friday, earning a hug from winner Dario Cologna.
He came home a full 27.59 minutes behind Dario Cologna and more than 10 minutes adrift of the penultimate finisher Dachhiri Sherpa of Nepal.
But the 43-year-old skier received a tremendous reception from the crowd as he crossed the line, with the Peruvian flag in one hand to be met by Switzerland’s Cologna who had waited nearly half an hour for him to finish.
Carcelen used to be a good surfer and took up cross-country skiing seven years ago. This was his second Olympics.
Four years ago in Vancouver, he took part in the same discipline and finished next to last. However, he became the first Peruvian to qualify and take part in a Winter Games.
“Tomorrow is the big day - the moment of truth,” Carcelen wrote on his website on Thursday. “It is going to be a long and painful ordeal.”
The 43-year-old was not as fit as he would have liked for the competition.
“Two weeks ago during training, I broke two ribs and on the eve of the race I got a cold,” he told Reuters following the race. “I felt a lot of pain. It was very difficult for me physically today and I had problems with my breathing, but I am very satisfied.”
The course conditions did not help the Peruvian.
“The snow was very slippery, it was very warm, but I put all that behind me and just tried to do my best.” Carcelen said.
“There were a few dozen fans from Peru cheering me on in the stadium and that gave me a lot of strength.”
Carcelen was Peru’s flag bearer at the Olympic opening ceremony leading the two other members of his team - Manfred Oettl Reyes and his older sister Ornella Oettl Reyes both compete in Alpine skiing.
“I am proud that I have managed to qualify for two Olympics and I hope it will inspire Peruvian children to take up skiing,” Carcelen said.
“This was the last race of my career. I am retiring. Skiing is not my only activity, as I have a consultancy firm in Seattle, where I used to live. I am planning to work with children in Peru and to teach them to ski and hopefully help them to take part in the Olympic Games.” (Reporting By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy; editing by Clare Lovell)