In Love with Ana The 400-meter world champ and Olympic favorite is the unlikeliest of heroes in a country long ruled by machismo

Aug. 02, 2004
Aug. 02, 2004

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Aug. 2, 2004

2004 Olympic Preview

In Love with Ana The 400-meter world champ and Olympic favorite is the unlikeliest of heroes in a country long ruled by machismo

The doors to her bus were open, but Ana Gabriela Guevara couldn't
step down. "Ana!" shrieked the masses, pushing, pulling and
elbowing to see her, to smell her, to be near the one their
nation's press had dubbed Su Majestad Ana Primera (Her Majesty
Ana the First). Security couldn't hold them back. Mexico's hope
for a first Olympic track and field medal in an event besides
race walking, the 27-year-old Guevara was supposed to carry the
Olympic torch through the streets of Mexico City on this June
evening. If she could just push ... through ... the ... crowds.

This is an article from the Aug. 2, 2004 issue Original Layout


How did it get this crazy? Wasn't it just eight years ago that
Guevara, heartsick after being left off Mexico's national
basketball team, tried track on a whim? Wasn't it only a couple
of years later that, having discovered her gift for the 400
meters, she was still struggling to find sponsors and was
bringing homemade tamales to meets so she wouldn't have to pay
for food? The crowds, the cameras, her likeness in Mexico's
national wax museum--all the result of her No. 1 world ranking in
the 400, her 24-race unbeaten streak in finals from August 2001
until July 2, and her gold medal, Mexico's first, at last year's
world championships in Paris. But Anamania is not only about
breaking records; it's also about shattering stereotypes.

Mexico has long been a bastion of machismo. It's a place where in
some factories women have to prove they're not pregnant by
showing bosses their used sanitary napkins, where nearly twice as
many women as men earn less than the minimum wage, and where
slightly fewer than 50% of girls aged 16 to 19 attend school.
Women's sports have traditionally been scoffed at--until now.

"With Ana, people on all levels of society are starting to accept
that a woman can be an athlete and one of the best in the world,"
says her agent and countryman German Silva, who placed sixth in
the 10,000 meters in Barcelona in 1992 and sixth in the marathon
four years later in Atlanta. "She's really changed the point of
view for the general public."

So great is Guevara's star power that despite a 2000 survey that
found that only about 1% of Mexican women over age 20 run, the
likes of Nike and Powerade have signed Guevara to lucrative
sponsorship deals. (A Powerade spokesman says that sales of the
drink in Mexico have jumped 20% since Guevara came on board in
2002.) Mexican president Vicente Fox regularly calls Guevara to
congratulate her on victories, and his wife, Marta, gushes, "She
confirms that for the new Mexican woman of the 21st century,
there are no limits."

Rosario Iglesias Rocha proves as much. For the last 68 years the
93-year-old Iglesias, who's known as Chayito, has run up and down
high-rise apartment buildings in Mexico City delivering
newspapers. In 1990 a customer noticed how quickly she navigated
the stairwells and suggested she try competitive running. Since
turning 80, Iglesias has won 104 medals and set 25 international
masters records.

Dressed in blue-and-white sweatpants and a white shirt, Iglesias
was ready to take the Olympic torch from Guevara and run the last
400 yards of the relay before lighting a cauldron in the Zocalo,
Mexico City's main plaza. Except that Guevara was nowhere to be
found; she was still on her bus, surrounded by the adoring
masses. Rain poured from the sky, but the crowd remained so thick
that Guevara had no place to go.

The decision was made to substitute a different runner, so
Guevara never touched the torch. Instead she had to watch TV
sports personality Jose Ramon Fernandez run her leg of the relay.
Chayito took the torch from Fernandez and ambled past little
girls wearing running shoes. Even the men were cheering.

COLOR PHOTO: PHILLIPPE MILLERAU/DPPI/ICON SMI Guevara took up track after failing to make the nationalbasketball team.