Monday, March 8, 2010

When grown men cry

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:

July 1985
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.

September 1985
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.


  1. Excellent post Lucho. Makes me feel guilty. Whenever Cadel wins anything, i just complain about his voice. Way to make me feel fortunate...

  2. Dr. Randal MandosMarch 8, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    The book you are going to write based on these posts will be excellent. I did finish "News of Kidnapping" and it delivered as promised, but when does GGM fail on that score? Let's just say that one shouldn't throw away "One Hundred Years of Solitude" as neither the fiction nor the journalism is a lesser achievement in any way.

    Speaking of which, why wouldn't Colombians identify with their countryman's sporting accomplishments and use them as their own? Pardon my Freud, but its a sublimated way to work it all out so you don't have to actually kill people and destroy things. Of course, sports (and the poor sods that are the athletes) get hijacked by some bullshit ideology - Hitler's Olympics and our recent North American "Ad-lympics" which suffer the taint of unbridled capitalism. For myself, instead of the the glorious hysteria you well describe, I feel embarassment if not shame at the spectacles of soul-less entitlement in American sports. Its enough to make you private.

  3. When Curt Harnett won silver in track racing at the 1984 Olympics, Canadians everywhere celebrated by watching him on a Pert Plus commercial.

  4. Death Race,
    You better go find Cadel and apologize right now! I do have to say, his voice is a bit high, and different than what I would have expected.

    To be fair, I've only read about four of Marquez' smaller fiction books. While they were good, they didn't have the effect on me that his non-fiction had.

    I bet those PErt Plus commercials made everyone weep though...didn't they?

  5. It is sad to live in a country where we just expect our athletes to win and simply ignore the sports where we are uncompetitive. Nobody in the United States can forget the 1980 "miracle on ice" because it was one of the few times we prevailed as underdogs in a sport that has a significant American following. If Lemond and Armstrong had not been so spectacularly successful, cycling would still have few American fans.

  6. Those announcers made the hair on my arms stand up!
    Great post. I was in Colombia (Bogota) when the national team made it into the second round of the World Cup (1990-something). The way people celebrated on the streets you would have thought we had just won four Super Bowls, three World Series, and ten gold medals on the same day. I've never seen American fans react to anything that way ever in such large numbers.

  7. It's always weird when national issues kind of commandeer sports moments. Someone mentioned the US "Miracle on Ice", and that was iconic for us in part because of our poor relations with the Soviet Union at that time. We were fairing poorly just about everywhere internationally (Iranian hostages, Afghan war) as well as domestically (recession), so we invested an inordinate amount of pride in that game.

    I must read Garcia Marquez' non-fiction. I've read plenty of his fiction, which I've enjoyed. But I've never sat down and read the journalistic stuff, and too many people have too many good things to say about it. Thanks for putting that bug in my ear...

  8. dude, i cried when Herrera wan the Vuelta and my sister yelled at me and called me a "fag". hahaha! i remember it SO well. i brought it up a cpl of years ago and she denied it, but im telling you, it happened!

    in 2004 when Once Caldas (a small colombian soccer team) wan the Copa Libertadores (the most important soccer tournament in south america), i saw it with 2 american friends at a sports bar in times square. the bartender refused to even turn the sound up, so i watched the gut-wrenching PK finish, after OT, listening to shit techno and surrounded by jocks and tourists. none of that stopped me from bending over, dropping to the floor and crying like a girl, in front of all these dbags staring at me. WTF did i care? a small, second rate team from a shit city in colombia had just beat Boca Juniors, the biggest, richest and most famous club in south america. if these ppl didnt 'get it', fuck them. i went out into the street and called Lucho (do you remember that?) and cried for a while with him and then, out of no where, some fat dude hugged me and lifted me up. i looked down and he was BALLING crying. snot and everything! we cried and yelled in the middle of 6th ave in time square for 20 minutes. my american friends took me to a strip club in the west side afterwards to celebrate. i did just that.
    check out this video. you can ffwd to 6:40 into it to the last PK. the reason you see japanese flags in the crowd, BTW, is cuz the winner of this tournament goes to tokyo to play the best european team. also notice that while the narrator is screaming, they play the national anthem. totally cheesy!

    i also saw Lucho cry when the US team beat colombia in the '94 WC. i cried for days.

    BUT, these two videos aren't even the tip of the iceberg! these 2 are from the late 90's/early 2000's, when soccer has taken over as the most popular sport in colombia, cuz finally we had a semi-decent national team. but you get a little more of the feeling

  9. oh, the commentator's name is Edgar Perea, the same dude in the cycling videos on the post

  10. yes! Once Caldas winning was a superbly emotional win. i cried like a little girl. i watched it alone, in the middle of a city in the united states where no one knew that the game was even happening. this made me feel lonely and isolated at a weirdly emotional moment. my brother called, and it made it all better. it was rad! such an amazing win!

  11. Thanks Lucho for another great post. The intensity of the events that surrounded you as a child are bewildering to me. The worst I can think of was the weekly reports of the dead from Viet Nam, 10,000 miles away.
    I have to add that I was a fan of Valderama's MLS years,I was lucky enough to watch his artistry at Tampa.

  12. Nice to hear from a Valderrama fan! My brother met and dealt with him plenty of times. Perhaps he'll share some stories with us. He's still around in Colombia, doing reality shows like I"m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here. Oh well.

  13. Yeah, with my old job I had to deal with Valderama and his wife a lot. Great, great guy. Very quite, so I was never able to get any juicy stories out of him. Just a few years later, tho, I ended up working with Eduardo Niño, Wilmer Cabrera and a few other guys from the national team in the 90's and they were the ones who told me all the crazy stories about those days. Also met and worked with Harkes, Wynalda, Nowak, Savarese and a lot of other MLS originals. Crazy stories for sure!

  14. This was extremely well written. I'm not sure what you're talking about when you say "second-rate writing" in your "About" section. Thanks for the info. As a Canadian cyclist, living in Medellin I'm really intrigued by the history that has spurred your country into the love affair with cycling that it holds so dear. If you're interested in checking out a little of what I've written about cycling in Colombia, here's where you can find it:

    Thanks again. Gracias para el informacion!


  15. i woul never forget that day once caldas won. I was in Mazatlan Mexico on vac with my girlfriend. and it was a Wednesday, I knew the game was that night so a got to a restaurant close to my hotel and I asked a waiter if they had fox sport and he said yes. I told him I will be there at 800 pm gave him $ 20.00 dollars and told him to reserve the first table in front of the t.v. So I got to the place at 800 pm. and they were a couple of families watching baseball I turn around to the waiter gave another $ 20.00 told him to put fox sports and to bring me a bocket of pacificos I remember drinking more than 20 beers watching that game. and when once won I wanted to celebrate so bad I remember calling my dad and crying over the phone, I was so drunk and happy when I went to the hotel I was making so mucho noise I wanted to hug everybody.


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