Rising Colombian star Anthony Zambrano produced a major surprise at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 last month when he raced to 400m silver. The 21-year-old clocked a notable 44.15 to clip a hefty 0.14 from the South American record set by Brazil’s Sanderlei Claro Parrela at the 1999 World Championships in Seville when Zambrano was barely a year old.
In an outstanding race, Zambrano moved up five spots over the final straight to take second behind Bahamian Steven Gardiner, whose 43.48 performance elevated him to the No. 6 position on the all-time list. In the battle for silver, Zambrano held off US champion and 2018 Diamond League champion Fred Kerley by a scant 0.02.
Zambrano’s performance was an important milestone in Colombian athletics history, marking the nation’s first medal on the track at a World Championships. In the previous editions of the IAAF World Championships only three Colombian athletes have reached the podium: Luis Lopez, the 20km race walk champion in 2011; 2017 20km race walk champion Elder Arevalo; and 2018 World Athlete of the Year Caterine Ibarguen, who took triple jump bronze in 2011, gold in 2013 and silver in 2017.
“I worked very hard to make Colombian athletics history,” Zambrano said, speaking through an interpreter. “This medal was a surprise.”
Zambrano was quick to credit coach Nelson Gutierrez and physiotherapist Caridad Martinez for his success in Doha. “They are key for me. They fed me when I had nothing to eat. I lacked discipline, but I trained hard every day.”
Born in the northern city of Maicao on 17 January, 1998, Zambrano began his athletics journey as a 14-year-old in 2012 when he took part in school competitions. It didn’t take him long to make waves. He reached the 400m final at the World U18 Championships on home soil in Cali in 2016, finishing seventh in 46.57 at age 16. A year later he was sixth at the World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where he improved to 45.81 in the semifinals. Last year he won the South American U23 title in Cuenca, Ecuador, clocking 45.19, his PB as he entered the 2019 season.
His Doha silver capped a very successful season for Zambrano, who also won the Pan-American Games title in 44.83. In June, he emerged as a potential Doha finalist when he clocked 44.68 to break the national record and South American U23 record in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, beating Davide Re, who broke the Italian record with 44.77, the fastest run by a European in 2019.
His progress continued in Doha where he clocked 44.55 in the semifinals.
“Look how far I have come, and how much farther I can go and take my career if I continue to fight as I have,” Zambrano said. “After three World Championships I am a world silver medallist in such a deep field, beating so many top guys. My racing worked. If I ‘lose’ my legs, it does not matter. I train to achieve my goals and I am sure many good things will come.”
After the Doha final, Zambrano received an emotional phone call in the athlete-media mixed zone from his mother, Miladis Zambrano, during a live interview with Colombian national television.
“I dedicate this medal to my mother,” an emotional Zambrano said, “As I spend most of the year away from her. She is my big motivation.”
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF