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Indifference on the streets jeopardizes athlete safety

Last December, the national cycling federation hosted the Tour of Costa Rica. This is a well-known event in Latin America, part of the UCI America Tour.

As part of the event, like every December from the time I can remember, the roads are closed for some hours during the mornings — the particular places and times depending on that day’s stage. You would expect every Costa Rican to know this.

Well, one apparently didn’t.

On the very first day of the Tour, one particular taxi driver found a road closed. He didn’t know why. Police officers told him to wait and explained that the peloton of the Tour of Costa Rica was just about to pass by. After the peloton was gone, they said, he would be allowed to cross to the other side. It would be only a few minutes of waiting.

But he didn’t wait. He thought he was smart enough to cross very fast without anyone noticing. Oops. Bad timing. He hit the peloton!

Some cyclists required medical attention. The Tour had to be rescheduled.

It’s a tragic story and yet I can’t help laughing as I’m writing because it sounds ridiculous. In what country of the world does a taxi driver crash into the peloton of the national cycling tour? How did this happen?

Costa Rica’s lack of respect for its athletes is now taking to the streets.

Just a month ago, the national marathoner Jenny Méndez was hit by a car while she was training. “A driver trying to pass on the right hit her and threw her into the air,” her husband and trainer, Daniel Garivia, who was going behind her on a bike, told reporters. “When she fell to the ground, a motorcycle, that was also trying to pass on the right, hit her again.”

I can laugh no more. Sounds like a horror story.

Not one but two disrespectful and irresponsible drivers crashed an Olympic dream. Jenny had been preparing for the Edinburgh Marathon in late May, where she was expected to make the mark to qualify for Rio. She still tried but the injuries in her leg left her 3 minutes and 42 seconds behind the Olympic mark.

“It was tough,” she said to reporters after finishing fourth in the race, in 2:48.42. “My knee was hurting because of the accident. I’m happy I tried. I love my country and I did it for the love I have to this flag.”

How is it possible that in the so-called “happiest country in the world” people cannot share the roads?

Cyclists and marathoners are athletes. This is how they should be respected.

In this developing country, they have no more option than to practice on the same roads used by the cars.

Just as most people wouldn’t dare to go in the middle of the field during a soccer game, drivers should care about the safety of these athletes, giving them space.

People are getting killed in the streets while practicing sports. In 2015, 28 cyclists were hit and killed by cars. My best friend’s dad, a road cyclist, was one.

Government has its part in this, too. Irresponsible drivers can’t go unpunished. Better roads, including bikeways and proper sidewalks, have to be designed and built. Awareness campaigns should be all over the media.

Drivers, please: if you see cyclists or marathoners in the way just slow down and give them some space. A meter and a half would be great. I promise it will take you just a few seconds — and you’re not going to be late.

Ivon Carballo majored in communications and is currently a graduate student in sport management at Seoul National University. She is from San José, where she grew up as a sports enthusiast. 

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