Growing up in Colombia during the 1980's was at times a difficult affair, one that I've written about before. One of the more unusual memories I have of those years, is that of grown men crying. Although Colombians are fairly at ease expressing a wide range of emotions in public, the sight of grown men crying left an impression on me from an early age. I suppose this has to do with gender roles, as well as the general idea that men (adult men in particular) shouldn't cry. In Colombia during the 1980's, however, there were plenty of reasons for everyone, grown men included, to cry.
I remember the Armero mudslide in 1985, in which 23,000 people died in the Colombian countryside. After the massive mudslide, for nearly three months, a ten minute segment of the nightly news was devoted to survivors who were still looking for their families. Standing against a stark blue background, survivors (almost always grown men) would state their names and then the names of everyone they had lost during the mudslide. Their hope was that someone somewhere would know the whereabouts of either the person, or their body. These men were given mere seconds to make their plea to a national audience, and they stood there crying uncontrollably as they stated the names of their wives and children. The endless amount of adult men that the entire country saw crying over those three months was a constant reminder of the tragedy's scale. 23,000 created thousands upon thousands of crying people, men in particular, who we watched on a nightly basis.
The Armero mudslide aside, the nightly news were already filled with endless amounts of footage that showed other men crying at the funerals of their kids or wives. Some cried for their sons who had been killed on the front lines of the ongoing civil war. Some cried for victims in bombings, while others cried because of kidnappings, assassinations or large scale massacres. Crying, uncontrollable over-the-top wailing, was so common that none of us thought anything of it. TV news shows were always eager to show these extreme displays of emotion, and producers were probably thrilled when the person crying would ultimately loose control of their limbs and collapse on the floor like a tantruming child. This too, was shown on TV almost every day. We saw these events on the news, we saw the pictures on the newspaper, we saw these displays in person as part of our daily lives. Raw emotions, and the physical expression of them were merely a sign of the times. Our condition as a nation was such that no one thought anything of it. When the country you live in is coming undone—when your entire reality is one of death, violence and destruction, why would crying be an unusual event?
1985 is perhaps the year that best exemplifies the ups and downs that were common for Colombians at the time. Consider the following timeline:
Lucho Herrera wins the dramatic St Etienne stage at the Tour. He wins the King Of The Mountains jersey, finishes 7th in the general classification (with fellow Colombian Fabio Parra finishing 8th). Cycling was undeniably the most popular sport in the country at that time, and because of these victories, Colombia erupts in celebration.
Martin Ramirez wins the Tour de l'Avenir. Again, the entire nations celebrates in joy. At this time in Colombia, it was not uncommon for tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in celebration for such victories. This would go on in every city and town throughout the entire country.
November 6-7, 1985
M-19 guerrillas take over the Palace Of Justice in Bogota (which housed the equivalent of the Supreme Court). 55 people are killed, including 11 supreme court justices. The Colombian army attacks the landmark building to get the guerrillas out. The standoff ends as the entire building is burned to the ground. The event further destabilizes Colombian politics, and is officially deemed a "holocaust and massacre" by the Interamerican Court for Human Rights. In the fire, the court documents and records for every ongoing case in the supreme court (and lower courts) is lost.
November 10, 1985
Three days after the take over, Colombian Ephraim Rodriguez sets three track cycling world records in Mexico City. All of Colombia celebrates, but still mourns the horrific events of the prior week.
November 13, 1985
Only six days after the takeover of the Palace of Justice. The Armero mudslide kills 23,000 and leaves hundreds of thousands homeless and displaced.
Not shown in this quick recap, are endless clashes with guerillas, assasinations, large-scale massacres, bombings and kidnappings. Also not included are the "cleansings" which took place during that time in cities like Bogota on an almost monthly basis. "Cleansings" were violent roundups, in which dozens of prostitutes, small-time drug dealers and drug addicts were assassinated all at once in Colombia's major cities. No one ever knew who committed these massacres, but most suspected that the police were behind them. Even without these other events, the timeline above shows how Colombians during that time were on a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
A bloodied Lucho Herrera rides towards a victory at St-Etienne. This is perhaps one of the most iconic images in Colombian cycling. In my opinion, it's by no means a stretch to say that the image resonated with Colombians because of his bloodied face, and how it echoed the realities of the country at the time.
In those years, sports victories by Colombians were often seen with the same level of sentimentality and emotion as the massacres that we became accustomed to. During those victories, sports announcers voiced the raw and exaggerated emotions of an entire nation. A stage win at the Tour de France or the Vuelta was not merely a victory to us, it was the cure we needed in order to forget about the deaths, the pain and the struggles we faced (if only for a second). It was a drug, a quick fix to forget the pain of our realities. Sports were serious, almost painfully so. Victories in sports (cycling in particular) were seen a statement about the strength of the Colombian character. As such, the explosive manner in which commentators relayed these events to us were often as uncontrolled as those we had grown accustomed to during the nightly news. Victories were relayed by sobbing men who would gasp for breath and endlessly scream out "Colombia, my beautiful country! We need this victory! This is for all of us! Colombia! Colombia, this is for all our pain and anguish! Colombia!" Every stage win, every goal in a soccer match was accompanied by emotional explosions of the grandest proportions. It should come as no surprise then, that many of us who were watching reacted the same way. The stage had been set, the importance of these races was obvious, and we too sobbed when Colombians won or lost. This, I believe, speaks volumes about the hypnotic effects of sports upon a population. Make of that what you will (opiate of the masses?), but I merely care to think about the level of emotion, rather than the meaning behind it.
With this in mind, I set out to find proof of such outbursts during cycling victories by Colombians. Sadly, not everything is available on the internet these days, so you'll largely have to take my word for it. Sorry. I did find two short videos that can perhaps begin to illustrate the type of sports announcing I grew up with. To be honest, these videos do not even begin to show the level of emotion that was common at every cycling event back then, but perhaps you will enjoy them.
Here's one that I couldn't figure out how to embed.