The fastest Grandpa on Earth

August 31st, 2009

At 85 years old, psychiatrist Hugo Delgado has entered history as one of the oldest gold medallists in the world. From Arequipa, the mountainous land of volcanoes, llamas and condors, this ageing athlete, who was once even a heavy smoker, won three gold medals at the World Masters Athletics in Finland. An Apu, a mountain spirit, in human form.

Foto: Giancarlo Shibayama, El Comercio

Foto: Giancarlo Shibayama, El Comercio

For him, body and soul can not be separated. A human being only exists because of the interdependence between the two. This connection determines our will, our ability to succeed and overcome obstacles and self doubt – including our ability to win a 300m hurdles race at age 85.

Young Hugo Delgado originally planned to be an architect, but not able to pay for his studies, he was forced to join his uncle in the field of medicine. His uncle, who helped him with his own resources and experience, had visited Sigmund Freud and introduced psychoanalysis to South America. Impressed, Hugo Delgado too decided to become a psychiatrist.

Despite having been quite sportive in his youth, involved in athleticism and even entering races, being buried in books left him no time to continue his hobby. However, although many years passed, he never quite managed to give it up. Now a professor, he would sometimes challenge his students to races… and he would beat them every time.

Now older, and as a successful psychiatrist, he had more time and money to dedicate to sports. He could afford to enter himself into competitions, and would pay the expenses himself. Every now and then he would even enter international events and compete on behalf of Peru. Despite building up a impressive array of records, he was never able to find sponsorship. From his first Masters event to the most recent one in Finland 2009, he has gone it alone.

Delgado could never have afforded to compete in such events if he hadn’t dedicated the entirety of his youth to study and then using his knowledge to earn a living. It is for that reason that his athletic career began when his was aged 65.

“One does when old what one couldn’t do when they were young”, he explains.

Age wasn’t the only thing he overcame. He owes his numerous medals to his decision to change his lifestyle. Up until 1989 he was a regular smoker, he had smoked a packet and a half each day. He gave up just two weeks before his first international competition.

To continue competing, he sold his car and his office and surgery to pay for flights and hostels. He adapted to heading off to far away countries alone and without support of any kind, competing against others who, from their countries, received government funding and backing, support staff, training and nice spa-complex hotels.

Holland, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Greece were just some of the countries he reached, always alone. The only races he lost were those he did not compete in – he sometimes couldn’t understand the languages in which he was called to the track and his lane of the track was left empty.

Delgado never plans to return without at least one medal. “Why go if you’re not going to win?”, he says.

He’ll keep going, he says, until he grows too tired. Until then he’ll continue refusing red meat and cigarettes, and without help from a personal trainer and without any sponsorship or support.

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