Andres Chocho at the 2015 World Championships (© Getty Images)
There are not many husband-and-wife teams in the history of the Olympics that return with a medal each - but Andres Chocho and Erica de Sena plan to join the elite group in Rio.
Even fewer couples see one half coach the other while also performing. Again, tick the box opposite the Ecuadorian and Brazilian. She also shoulders the added weight of performing in front of 200 million countrymen.
He too carries an extra burden.
Chocho would very much like to shake off the mental shackles of matching his country’s one athletics Olympic gold so far. The one that made Jefferson Perez an idol in his own country.
In fact, the two walkers have similar styles. So it is hardly a surprise to discover both were coached by the same person - Andres’ father, Luis.
“Jefferson Perez was coached by my father for a year before the Atlanta Games in 1996,” explained Chocho. “So I have been influenced a lot from both him and my father. “I do have a technique coach who helps with physical conditioning, but now I train myself.”
Perez walked to immortality in Atlanta.
Chocho walking in Perez's footsteps
Twenty years later, Cocho believes he can become the second Ecuadorian athlete to get his face on a postage stamp back home. So far he is posting the right results.
At altitude in March, he broke his South American 50km record by more than three minutes when he stopped the clock in 3:42:57 at Ciudad Juárez, a race part of the 2016 IAAF Race Walking Challenge. His previous mark was just a year old, and then in Rome at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships, Chocho shed 33 seconds from his 20k best to notch 1:20:07 and sixth place in the middle of heavy training. No prizes for guessing the 32-year-old is going for broke by entering both 20k and 50k in Rio.
Does he think it could compromise what is likely to be his last serious challenge by taking on two tough events in seven days?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I made big steps in Rome, and I want to try and do both 20k and 50k. I think I can do a good show and I demonstrated in Rome I can get medals in both. I walked 3:42:00 at altitude in Juárez. With that sort of time, I can get under 3:40:00 in normal conditions and then into medal territory.”
He also wants to get the wife into medal contention on home soil, and believes her rapid progress makes that more than possible. Chocho points to a walker who was not only far from world class when he took her on in 2010, de Sena was not even second best in her country.
de Sena minimising home country pressure, for now
Since then she has made quantum leaps by hacking off nearly two minutes from her 20k best each year for the last four to a scintillating 1:27:18 at the World Team Championships that got her a commendable fourth. It also broke her own South American record, and set the road marks for 5k, 10k, and 15k en route to the finish to underline the stepping stones from last year’s sixth at IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
Last weekend de Sena had a Saturday morning stroll to lift the Brazilian title in an untroubled 1:37:38 on a 1k loop just outside Sao Paulo. Now it’s back to Cuenca in Ecuador, home to the couple, where at altitude the finishing touches gets added to the foundation of an Olympic challenge.
Chocho believes out of sight and out of mind for de Sena, is also out of the cauldron of expectation for a city and country desperate to get a return in medals for their $4 billion outlay.
“It’s true,” he said, “there is a lot of pressure on Erica; but she’ll be training away from Brazil in Ecuador; and I hope she can relax and train well. I think we are a close to getting her a medal; but she’s in a big group. Italy, China, Ukraine, Czech Republic - all of these will be tough competition, but she’s shown she can live in that that kind of company."
“In fact," he continues, "it’s good for us both to have an Olympics based in South America.
“When we travel to the World Championships or the World Cups in the past, we have to make training camps close to where they are. It means we are away from the family and away from the country - now that all changes for us. I can train at home this time, and that can only be good using the altitude, and all the things familiar to me. It’s much the same for Erica.”
An obsession for Chocho, a 'job' for de Sena, a passion for both
Chocho admits he’s a bit of an obsessive when it comes to race walking, and if allowed, would talk about it day and night. The other half sees it as the day job, and reminds her husband frequently that’s what it should be. But Chocho would also like to point out their care for each other makes them better athletes.
“We love what we do, and we love each other, and we are at a great time in our careers. We support each other and it’s better because of that,” he said.
“It’s still very difficult to have a normal life as most people understand the idea.
“I’m crazy for the sport; Erica can’t understand how I can be that crazy. I’m absorbed all the time; She’s different; she trains and can be away mentally from the sport and return when it matters - but not me.”
So what happens when one of them wins, say, a silver in Rio, and the other a bronze? Does one medal get a better spot in the family trophy case?
“That’s very good,” laughed Cocho. “No. It’s a race against other people - not between ourselves.”
Paul Warburton for the IAAF