A heavy metal gate on the lower floor of a two-story shopping center in Guadalupe, northeast of San José, is the entrance to world-class athleticism.
Upstairs in the dressing room at his family’s Taekwondo school, Kristopher Moitland – tall, dark complexioned, with longish kinky hair and a wide smile – dons the uniform he will wear at the Olympic Games.
He’s proud of the “HSBC Costa Rica” logos on the back and the left leg. They mean he can afford to go and compete in Taekwondo’s “heavy” category (80 kg and up) against some of the world’s best.
“Just the experience is incredible, the Olympic Games,”Moitland said.
Moitland and three other Ticos are more or less assured spots in the August games, said sports federation representatives, despite a power struggle over Costa Rica’s National Olympic Committee (CON) that’s left it in upheaval just in time for the games.
Perhaps most renowned among Costa Rica’s Olympic hopefuls is sprinter Nery Brenes, 22, who runs the 400 meters. He ran his personal best in August of last year, at 45.01 seconds.
On March 7, the Limón native placed fourth in his event at the indoor world championships in Spain. He now ranks 15th in the world.
Coach Walter Salazar said Brenes is training hard for his first go at the Olympics, with 10 speed sessions per week.
Moitland, meanwhile, is a veteran. His first Olympics was Athens, 2004, only the second Olympics in history that offered Taekwondo sparring as a sport. He didn’t make it past the quarterfinals, but it was an accomplishment nonetheless.
“After that we had more confidence that we were doing things right,” he said, sitting in his dressing room while in the next room his mother, Adilia Cabezas, instructed a class of three rowdy 5-year-olds.
Moitland said that of the estimated 70 million Taekwondo practitioners in the world, only 16 go in each category.
Two other lone wolves like Moitland and Brenes have their Olympic berths locked in.
Henry Raabe, a mountain biker, and Federico Ramírez, a road cyclist, are both registered and ready to ride, said the Olympic Committee’s chief of Beijing Olympics mission, Edwin Suárez.
Two other athletes are on the cusp of taking their shot at the gold. One is Leonardo Chacón, 23, a triathlete who is currently ranked first in the Americas. Chacón’s most proud performance in the triathlon – a combination of 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40-km bike ride and a 10-km run – was 14th place in the last world cup in Cancun. To assure his Olympic slot he must defend his current first place ranking for the next few months.
A second Tico with hopes is Rodrigo Vázquez, a shooter who’s looking to compete in the 10 m. air rifle.
While these six Olympic hopefuls train, however, all is not quiet on the administrative front.
For several years, the Olympic Committee has been embattled by accusations of mismanagement and corruption.
Last year, the committee had to give back ¢44 million (about $88,888) to the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER) that had gone unused in the Pan- American Games after the institute started a lawsuit.
Later the Comptroller General’s Office issued a report advising ICODER against granting more funds to the committee (the National Olympic Committee is an independent, nonprofit committee with some legal links to the government).
In October the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) began investigating the committee’s 22-year president, Jorge Nery, for fraud and document forgery.
Then in March, representatives of 26 of the 47 sports federations that make up the assembly of the committee held a meeting and voted to sack the committee.
The committee, however, maintains that the meeting was illegal and is calling another meeting for April 30. A local Olympic Committee is only official if it has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee, Suárez said.
“There’s only one Olympic Committee, and it’s this one,” he said.
Suárez said the committee has everything under control, as far as registering the athletes and applying for funds from Olympic organizers for transportation and lodging.
Moitland, however, has taken no chances, mentioning he believes HSBC Costa Rica has committed to paying his expenses, which he guessed would amount to about $4,000.
Salazar said Brenes is in the process of looking for sponsors as well, and there have been rumors that big companies such as Gatorade are making offers.