A True National Hero
He could be a full-time swimmer for the British Olympic team or Spain, but he always wanted to compete under the banner of Paraguay, a tiny South American country known as one of the least-developed nations in the world sporting.
Although Paraguay, one of the first independent republics in the Western Hemisphere, does not boast a 50 pool and despite its troubles with training and sports equipment, Benjamin Hockin, whose father is Briton and mother is Paraguayan, loves competing with this landlocked nation. It is a rare case in the Developing World where a number of athletes, from boxers and footballers to fencers and archers, want to become American/European citizens. By the late 1990s, for example, Africa’s Eunice Barber, who stands 1,91m tall, became French sportswoman after competing as an athlete from the war-torn country of Sierra Leone at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games,where she finished in fifth place in the women’s heptathlon.
Warrior- Athletes of Paraguay
Most of Paraguay’s wins have been produced by “warrior-athletes”, an envy to many Olympic leaders in the region. In the latter half of the 1980s, the country’s team, made up of three combative sportsmen –Victor Manuel Pecci, Francis Gonzalez and Hugo Chapacu– defeated America in the Davis Cup preliminaries, at one time under the anti-Communist dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. Previously,in the early 1950s, the women’s basketball team won the South American Cup by defeating Brazil 20-19, and after that, they finished fifth at the World Tournament in Chile’s capital of Santiago. At home, by 1962, this side won their second continental trophy well ahead of Chile (silver medal) and Brazil (third).
Its other international medals were when the men’s volleyball side captured the silver medal at the 1958 South American Championship in Porto Alegre (Brazil). In the finals, Paraguay lost to host country (which was referred to as one of the “most outstanding squads” on the Planet between 1959 and 1966). By 1964, this Spanish-speaking republic was second in the women’s Volleyball South American Cup. Fifteen years later, the men’s team picked up a bronze because of its victory over a Chilean squad.
In the wake of their win in the Pre-Olympic Tournament in 1992, the footballers qualified for the Summer Games. But in those years, the country’s tennis emerged with two teenagers, Rossana de los Rios and Larissa Schaever. It was during that time when Rossana won the Junior French Open. Later on, Edgar Baumann was crowned as the second best javelin thrower in the Western Hemisphere at the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata’s Jose Maria Minella Stadium. Aside from him, there were other outstanding athletes such as Nery Kennedy and Ramon Jimenez.
Over the next century, Paraguay, spearheaded by Jose Luis Chilavert and then by Roque Santa Cruz, became one of the few countries in the world to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for fourth time in a row and after winning a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Games (behind Argentina). In the last global tournament in Sub-Saharan Africa, the national squad –whose footballers sometimes use the native language Guarani to confuse their rivals– made international headlines when they won their group with five points, ahead of Slovakia, New Zealand and Italy. But Paraguay not only has produced top athletes as Chilavert, Pecci, Gonzalez, Bauman, and Kennedy, but other idols like swimmer Benjamin Hockin.
Paraguay’s Goodwill Ambassador Benjamin Hockin
Benjamin Thomas Hockin Brusquetti was born on September 27, 1986 in Colombia’s city of Barranquilla. After living in the Caribbean Colombian, where he learned to swim, he and his family moved to Paraguay, his mother’s country. In this sparsely populated nation, Benjamin, known as “Benji”, discovered his “big passion” for swimming, competing in local clubs, among them Deportivo Sajonia. Upon taking a holiday in Tenerife (Spain), he made the decision to stay on Spaniard soil, where her parents had been working. There, he began a career as an amateur swimmer in the Club Deportivo Teneteide, while he finished his schooldays. When he turned 19, he left Spain for Britain to study English and to seek new horizons. During his stayed in Wales and England, he called the attention for his records, receiving an invitation to represent Great Britain. At that time, he sent his pre-Olympic results to Paraguay, but his credentials were not accepted by the South American republic.
Upon becoming a British citizen, Benjamin made his international debut at the European Tournament in 2006. The following year, he headed for Australia to take part at the FINA World Championships. Then, Benjamin earned Olympian berths in two events in the National Trials, gaining the right to participate at the 2008 Games. Subsequently,he was one of the members of the British side that reached the finals in the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay in the Games of the 29th Olympiad in Beijing’s National Aquatics Centre (nicknamed the “Water Cube”).
Overcoming Huge Obstacles
Although Great Britain will be host the 2012 Olympic Summer Games, Benjamin, stands 1,96cm in height (6 ft 5 in), does not want to compete for the host country. Instead of Britain,where there are several swimming pools, his dream is to be an Olympian athlete from Paraguay, the only one South American country where there is not a single Olympic-size pool.
Before being excluded for a year from swimming by FINA due to an improper change of citizenship, he amassed eight medals (six silver) in the South American Championships at Medellin, Colombia, becoming the first swimmer from Paraguay to win a medal in the Continental events since March 1976 as Emilio Abre finished third in the men’s 400-meter individual medley at Uruguay’s city of Maldonado, behind Brazil’s Carlos A. Rocha and the Pan American champ Jorge Delgado Panchana of Ecuador.
The year 2011 turned out to be a special year for him. Why? In the recent Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico -the most important pre-Olympic event in the Western Hemisphere-Benjamin had one of his greatest satisfactions when he deservedly was named the flag bearer for the Olympic national team and then, on October 18, 2011, gave his country its first individual Pan American medal by finishing third in the men’s 200m freestyle with a new South American record of 1:48:40, at the expense of Mathew Patton and Douglas Robison ( both from America). Two days earlier, he and his compatriots –Renato Prono, Jose Lobo, and his brother Charles– had missed out on a Pan American bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay.
Despite huge obstacles, he never declined to train with his team-mates, an Olympic spirit which once had the legendary Anthony Nesty, a Trinidadian-born Surinamese swimmer (who defeated Matt Biondi twice in the late 1980s), and Costa Rica’s Claudia Poll. On the contrary, he intensified his efforts to improve his records. Unlike swimmers from Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru, he not had coaches and Olympian specialists (as nutritionists), as well as sponsors. Every day, from morning to afternoon, he had trained systematically at Paraguay’s only 25-meter pool.
A few months of Olympics at London, Benjamin Hockin has become a role model due to his humble personality, Olympic spirit, and his passion for Paraguay. At a recent interview, Benjamin said, “For me Paraguay is my country…It is another taste (competing under the South American republic). I felt very proud to be Paraguayan.For this my declaration of love to the country”.
Thanks to his passion, talent, and discipline, he demonstrates that excellent athletes are excellent athletes anywhere of the world especially as he defeated Americans and Brazilians at Guadalajara 2011. Good luck Benjamin for London 2012! You’re already a winner!