So much history is being created every day in the canoe sprint competition, and not all of it involves winning medals and setting fast times.

33-year-old Amado Cruz has created a slice of history that will never be challenged. He has become the first athlete from Belize to compete in canoe sprint at an Olympic Games, and is one of just three athletes from the Central American country competing in Tokyo.

Cruz was one of two canoe sprint athletes awarded a tripartite quota for Tokyo, Olympic positions which are set aside for athletes from countries where a sport is in its infancy. The second quota was awarded to Mozambique in Africa.

Cruz earns his Olympic tattoo at a time most athletes are retiring from international competition, but he does not care. He has worked too hard for too long to wear his country’s colours at the Olympic Games.

“I started paddling since I was five, and I started racing when I was 14. I started kayaking in 2016, and since then I have liked it, and I am here now,” Cruz said.

“I definitely want to be at another Olympics.”

For a country that boats beautiful coastlines and waterways it may be surprising there have been no Belize canoe sprint Olympians before.

It’s not because canoeing is not popular in Belize. Kayaking is still relatively new in the Central American country, and they don’t have the resources to support a high performance programme.

“Kayak is something new in Belize that started in 2016, and I’ve been competing in other countries in kayak because we don’t have what we need to advance in Belize,” Cruz said.

“A lot of people are supporting me back home in Belize, and there are a lot of kids who will want to be here at some point. They have been training in some kayaks back home, but we need the proper equipment and coach for Belize so we can advance to be here in better conditions.

“Right now I’m the fastest in Belize, and there’s no-one I can train with, so it’s difficult for me, and we don’t have the proper equipment, or a kayak that is the right size for me.”

Getting to the Olympics won’t be enough to guarantee growth in the sport in Belize. Along with the lack of resources, there is no live television coverage of Cruz’s events back in his home country.

But people are talking about it, and when you are one of just three athletes representing your country at the biggest sporting event in the world, you are going to get attention at home.

“There is a lot to learn, so I just come here to do my best and to make Belize proud. Right now I’m just happy to be here,” Cruz said.

“I am honoured to have this opportunity to represent my country. I feel really honoured to be here and to participate in the Olympics.

“I was a bit nervous because I am competing against the best in the world, there’s a lot for me to learn here just from watching the way they paddle. And when you are paddling against the best, you have to be nervous.”

Cruz finished 23rd in the men’s K1 200, and 25th in the K1 1000. And Belize is now part of Olympic canoe sprint history.

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