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Warming up for cold sports.

Mexico's history of conquest and gold dates back over 400 years. But this coming February, Mexican athletes will carve out another piece of history as they strive for the Olympic gold in Albertville, France.

Although a highly visible team in the Summer Games, Mexico is still relatively unknown as it prepares for only its second appearance in the Winter Olympics. "We are in a developmental stage," said Jose Luis Aguilar, president of the recently created Mexican Federation of Winter Sports. "I think we need more time because it is obviously difficult to train adequately in Mexico for some of these sports, but it's possible with very hard work."

Mexico's 1992 Winter Olympic team is made up of 10 Alpine skiers, one cross-country skier, two figure skaters and 10 bobsledders. In comparison, the United States will send 170 athletes. While most of Mexico's winner team gained experience at the 1988 Calgary Games, there are some newcomers including 16-year-old Mayda Navarro, a Mexican national champion figure skater, Alpine Skier Juan Carlos Elizondo and cross country skier Roberto Alvarez-Hovel.

Building a winter sports program has been a gradual but encouraging process, Aguilar said. All the news, however, is not optimistic. It is not clear whether veteran figure skater Ricardo Olavarrieta, one of the team's top athletes, will get a chance to perform in the 9,000-seat ice rink in Albertville after suffering an ankle injury last month.

In 1988, Mexico turned a few heads when it became the first Latin American country to field a bobsled team. This time, Mexico will have a pair of two-man and four-man bobsled teams led by the Tames brothers, Eduardo, Jorge, Alejandro and Luis.

Even before the Mexican bobsled team, there was Dr. George Tucker. Representing Puerto Rico, Tucker was the first athlete from a tropical climate nation to break into the Winter Games long dominated by the European nations and Canada. Tucker's slide in the Luge at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo opened the doors for Latin America's participation. Now, some 10 countries from Latin America are expected to be represented in France next year.

Who does Mexico see as its chief rival? Argentina and Chile could challenge Mexico as the top Latin American nation in the Winter Games, Aguilar said while at the World Junior Figure Skating Championship in Canada November 26.

Aguilar was keeping a close eye on Mexico's promising prospect Ingrid Reyes, 13, of Mexico City. Reyes, who trains in Monterrey and Boston, Massachusetts, is the holder of Mexico's junior national championship and part of the country's long-term project of building for the future, he added.

Aguilar was an easy choice to head Mexico's Winter Sports program. As a figure skater himself more than 30 years ago, Aguilar dazzled spectators in Mexico City's ice rinks.

For a betting man, Mexico may not seem to have the odds in its favor, but as Aguilar said, it will only be a matter of time before the non-traditional countries develop their talent and play catch-up to the high-technology used by the world's top athletes.
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Title Annotation:Mexico
Author:Estrada, Louie
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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