Marianis Salazar Sánchez is the 2019 Pan American Junior Track Cycling Champion.
She lives in Barranquilla, Colombia, a city where track cycling is known for its speed talent. The cyclists, who are mostly men, train at the velodrome. She is one of a small number of successful female competitors.
Marianis Salazar Sánchez belongs to the generation of cyclists born in the 21st century in Barranquilla, Colombia. A city with more than 1.2 million inhabitants, according to data from the 2018 census. This city has only one velodrome, inaugurated in 1992, and a recent history of male champions trained in this one setting.
Colombia’s Atlantic region track cycling had pioneers José Caballero in the 70s and 80s, the first to compete in track events without even having a velodrome in the city. Then, with the inauguration of the velodrome, national champions such as Rodrigo Barros and Jhonatan Marín came on the scene. They helped make up the Colombian team, and medalists in the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games.
Marianis Salazar’s appearance, and her results in the Pan American Games, made her the woman with the best representation and podium performance in this modality of cycling.
From 2018, when she debuted in a national cycling event, and until halfway through 2021, she has won 17 individual finals (four in Pan American Games) and three team finals in eight championships. In her debut in an Elite Pan American Championship and competing above her age group, she won a bronze medal in Peru. In June 2019, a year after her appearance, Salazar Sánchez set a Colombian record for youth in the 500 meters in Medellín with a stopped start: 35 seconds and 186 hundredths. Being a junior, the Barranquilla cyclist beat the record of Martha Bayona from 2003 and was established in the Junior Pan-American Games, according to the Colombian Cycling Federation. Since that day, Marianis Salazar and her coach Ricardo Moreno aim to set a world record in the youth 500 meters.
Colombia has been developing a program called PAD Pista since November 2020. It is a program for advanced talent in track cycling, which has allowed it to have 1,8,500 young people under 20 years old training and competing. Only five women and 22 men reached the phase of the project that will choose a selection for the Pan American Cycling 2021.
Colombia has had three women with world track titles: María Luisa Calle (2006) in seniors, and youth Jessica Parra (2013) and Camila Valbuena (2014), but all three in semi-fund events; that is, athletes born at more than 1,000 meters above sea level and for their specialized training in long-breath tests.
Marianis Salazar wants to be the first sprinter at the top of the world with the Colombian flag. She trains at sea level, and her talent is giving symptoms that she will try.
With more than 46 million inhabitants, Colombia has only 11 departments (32 has the country) with cycling leagues. This number was the one that participated in the Nacional Juvenil de Cali 2021.
Only seven cities in the 11 leagues have a velodrome, and six of those venues are more than 900 meters above sea level. Colombia is a country of road cyclists trained to climb mountains, significant climbs, and medium distance events. The Atlantic Cycling League with Marianis Salazar is an exception to that rule for older riders.
The Atlantic Cycling League has 15 affiliated clubs, of which only two train in the track mode, and 354 athletes are affiliated. The track, BMX, road, and freestyle modalities are the modalities that these clubs train.
BARRANQUILLA, Colombia — Not everyone can be an Olympian in Latin America.
I have overcome injuries, a pandemic, and financial challenges to chase my dream.
Sidelined after my 2019 win
After being the fastest cyclist in the 2019 Junior Pan American Championship, I had great expectations. I graduated from high school in 2020 and hoped to go to my first World Cup.
Then, the pandemic put my dreams on hold.
With no competitions, and with training limitations due to quarantine, I gained weight and my body began to change.
[As competitions re-opened], I experienced my first serious injury. During a race, I was staring at my front wheel, watching who was in the front.
Suddenly, my bicycle stopped, and I saw everything upside down, like in a movie. When I woke up, I felt the total weight of my body on my right shoulder.
I fractured my right clavicle.
As the minutes passed, the pain grew. Tears were falling from my eyes. After several hours and multiple hospitals, doctors said they could operate, but not for 21 days. The pain was unbearable.
Thanks to the insistence of my dad’s friend, we obtained an appointment two days later and I had surgery.
Getting back to competition proved difficult
Just when I was ready to go back to the track, my dad began experiencing tremendous pain in his arm and on the left side of his chest. When he arrived at the emergency clinic, they admitted him for heart disease.
My dad works as a driver and earns his income through the amount of work he completes. My mom sells beauty products. After being hospitalized he had to cut back on his work schedule.
My brother [from whom I inherited my love of track cycling] had gone on to be a foreign trade professional, and he helped to replace our primary source of income. With no insurance, my family’s savings was expended, covering my accident and injuries.
We received some government support, but my sport requires a lot of support from my family. We have to buy implements, wheels, tools, helmets, shoes, glasses, ties, belts, tubes, food to maintain my ideal weight of 70 kilos (154 pounds), physical therapy, and a psychologist – all to remain competitive.
I do not have a sponsor.
Defeating highly trained athletes in Peru
Once my health and financial problems were solved, I wanted to stay at home to take care of my family’s needs. My brother helped me.
Then, with no warning, a few days before the new year, he tested positive for Covid, forcing us to quarantine. Once again, I was locked up and unable to train.
My coach Ricardo Moreno ensured I went back to training with weights so I could return to the ring.
After our negative streak, everything began to improve. I hadn’t competed in 23 months, then I went to my first Elite Pan American Championship in Peru. I won a bronze medal in the 500 meters.
Being on an Elite podium as a youth was a huge achievement. I beat the Guatemalan Johan Rodríguez, a cyclist who trains at the High-Performance Center of the International Cycling Union in Switzerland.
Although I was able to beat an opponent with more experience, I knew I had to keep learning and training hard.
Months later, my teammates and I managed to win seven finals in the Junior National Championship. A number of Colombians – including me – have shown to be the best in speed tests.
Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.
Nilson Romo Mendoza is a journalist with 24 years of experience in the media in Barranquilla, Colombia. His chronicles and reports aim to show the realities of society through a portrait of his characters.