By MATTIAS KAREN
2014-02-15 06:01 AM
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) -- Roberto Carcelen skied over to the fans beside the course, grabbed a Peruvian flag and waved it at the crowd as he came down the final straight toward the finish line.
It was the kind of celebration often seen by the winner of a cross-country skiing race at the Olympics. Carcelen, though, was celebrating finishing in last place.
Or rather, the fact that he finished at all.
The 43-year-old Peruvian was more than 10 minutes slower than any other competitor in the men's 15-kilometer classical race at the Sochi Games on Friday, finishing dead last in 87th place. His time of 1 hour, 6 minutes, 28.9 seconds was more than 27 minutes slower than that of winner Dario Cologna of Switzerland.
That didn't stop him from giving Peru its moment in the spotlight in Sochi.
Skiing slowly toward the finish in the warm sunlight using just one pole while carrying the flag with his other hand, Carcelen was given a loud ovation as he crossed the line. He was then given a hug by Nepalese skier Dachhiri Sherpa, who finished second to last. Even better, Cologna himself came over and gave Carcelen a pat on the back, as the Swiss star was waiting around for the race to finish before the flower ceremony could be held.
Carcelen also carried Peru's flag at the opening ceremony, having become the first athlete from the country to compete at the Winter Games in Vancouver. There, he was second to last, but Friday's race may still have been a bigger achievement. He said he injured his ribs shortly before the Olympics, and had to deal with the pain as well as the tough conditions in the soft and wet snow.
"It was a very difficult race for me," Carcelen said. "I was in a lot of pain on my right ribs. ... Hopefully I'll inspire people in Peru."
Carcelen doesn't plan on being back at the 2018 Olympics. This was his swan song on the international stage, and he made sure it was a memorable one.
"I'm retiring now," he said. "I want to dedicate myself to a cross-country development project and to work with kids to get them to the Olympics. I think I'll be more useful doing this."