SYDNEY-Abel Sanchez fell a little short of his goal in the 2000 Olympics, but he's not sorry he tried.
The diver from Holland, Mich., competing for Peru, wanted to make the finals in 10-meter platform diving. He had an off-day Friday, finishing 37th out of 42 divers, well off the qualifying standard. "My main objective was to final in the 1-meter platform," said Sanchez. "If I had done that, that would have been the equivalent to winning the gold medal. It's the first time Peru's ever had a Peruvian diver. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good show.
"It was all worth it. Some days you wake up and you're right on and some days like today it just wasn't there.
"But you know what, I'm here. I made it. I made my dream to come here. There are a lot of people who didn't believe in me, a lot of people who said I'd never go to the Olympics. It's just very gratifying to know that I was here."
At the elite level of diving, the difference between a medal and not even qualifying is slim. Sanchez looked like he dove well, but just missed his best performance.
"This is only my fourth international competition," he said. "Just to be here among the best in the world is just unexplainable. To know that I could have been right up in the top, you know, feels good. I didn't, unfortunately, but hey, that's the way it happens."
Sanchez has struggled to get the support of the Peruvian government to represent them at the Olympics. He tried in 1992 and 1996 without luck. Finally, this time he got someone to listen to him. 'It's been quite difficult," said Sanchez, who has dual citizenship because his father was born in Peru. "I've been trying to represent Peru for quite some time. I personally went down myself and had to cut through all the bureaucracy to see this happen."
Even after getting Peru to let him be their first-ever Olympic diver, Sanchez faced more difficulties.
"I had two opportunities internationally to qualify, to make my scores here, while others have four years," he said. "I was fortunate enough to make it. It was a lot of pressure, but that's what this sport is all about, is pressure."
While Peru paid his way, they didn't want to pay for his coach to come.
"Peru did not want me to take a coach," said Sanchez, a three-time All-American when he dove at the University of Michigan. "They were telling me they didn't have any money. And I come here and there are 22 athletes, 21 delegates. There are other Peruvian athletes that don't even have coaches. I had to raise enough money to bring my coach here."
He raised $7,000 selling T-shirts on the internet and through donations. Then after he got to Sydney he ignited controversy by telling Peruvian television reporters that Peru wasn't doing enough for its athletes.
"I said the delegates didn't support us, their athletes," he said. "They came here pretty much on vacation. Instead of coming to watch their own athletes perform they went out shopping. They went out and had a good time. I thought that was very bad.
"They have lack of support for all their athletes. Not just me but all the athletes that are there. It's a shame that people that rise to the occasion and make it to the Olympics like this, a country doesn't support them 100%, back them up and give them what they need to perform at the highest levels."
Sanchez had family support while diving in Sydney. His brother Walter and sister-in-law Sara were here along with his fiancee, Pam Yugar. Now he'll go back to Los Angeles, where he met Yugar, get married and try to find a job in marketing.
"I'm retiring from diving," he said. "This has been fun. It's been great. It's been a long haul. It's definitely been quite the journey."
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