Subject: Newsday: Undaunted spirit of East Timor's Olympic athletes

Newsday (New York, NY) October 1, 2000



By Shaun Powell


THIS MORNING, he will run freely and safely. He waited a long time for this. His toes will feel the spongy sole of comfortable shoes. His feet will patter against a smooth concrete surface. And along his path, there will be a noticeable absence of mayhem.

Calisto da Costa doesn't have to worry about broken asphalt or armed soldiers ordering him to stop, and the only crackling of gunfire will come from a starter's pistol. He can run to a finish line instead of running for cover. As he paces himself in the men's marathon, there will be no burning in the streets, only inside his lungs.

"The roads here in Sydney," he said, "are very different than in Dili."

Several months ago, he began training for these Olympics amid the rubble and strife of his hometown, or what was left of it. Dili is the main city in East Timor, an island country that defiantly declared its independence from Indonesian rule last year. The residents paid for their freedom with blood. Indonesia responded by punishing East Timor, destroying communities, shooting dissident citizens on sight and causing widespread chaos.

Through it all, four athletes refused to allow their Olympic flame to be snuffed.

The last of the four competes today and he, too, will reap an unforgettable experience no matter where he finishes. Two East Timorese marathoners, a weightlifter and a boxer have defined the Olympic spirit more than any millionaire ballplayer, doped-up Romanian or gold-medal swimmer ready to be placed on a Wheaties box.

It began on the night of the Opening Ceremonies, when they bounced into Olympic Stadium without a name, an anthem, an official flag or colors. They were recognized as Individual Olympic Athletes and wore white. East Timor will not be certified by the United Nations until next year, but four athletes created an identity for themselves anyway.

When they were announced, a stadium roared. When they began competing, fans stood. Almost nobody had heard of them, yet nearly everyone knew the sacrifices four athletes from East Timor had to make to get here. "Before we left home," said Martinho de Araujo, the weightlifter, "everyone prayed for us." De Araujo, competing in the 123-pound class, finished last among the 20 in his field. He wasn't exactly crushed by it. Chances are none of the other competitors had to make their own weights and barbells to train.

But that's exactly what de Araujo did to reach Sydney. The militia groups from Indonesia wiped out the facilities, so de Araujo, an unemployed 27-year-old, filled a pair of five-gallon buckets with cement. They served as the barbells. He took the cogs from truck transmissions. They were the bars. He had no idea how much weight he hoisted. He just kept lifting it.

Aguida Amaral finished 43rd in the women's marathon. Maybe her time would've improved had she not run the streets of Dili while pregnant. She gave birth to her fourth child in February, and after resting a few weeks, the 28-year-old mother hit the pavement again. Part of her time was spent nursing a newborn and raising two toddlers and a 9-year-old. The other was running on the streets whenever there was a break in violence.

"Yes, I had to leave my family behind," she said. "But this is something I had to do for all the Timorese. I came here to compete, and I know they were behind me."

She is a small woman, weighing only 95 pounds, but had all the strength needed to finish the race. "I was so happy when I entered the stadium," she said. "I thought I'd reached the finish line. But I heard Calisto yelling from the stands, telling me to keep running, you have one lap to go."

Boxer Victor Ramos lost his first-round match in the 132-pound division. His self-esteem never hit the canvas because the danger in the Olympic boxing ring was nothing compared to what he felt back home. More than the others, Ramos was a target for the militias. He was a fighter, and they saw him as a threat.

The four East Timorese athletes were rescued by United Nations officials two months before the Games and brought to Australia. Their presence isn't going unnoticed in East Timor. Three giant TV screens were donated and have stood in Dili since the Games began.

Today, a new if troubled nation will witness one more event. Calisto de Costa will not win the race. But does that really matter?

"This is the best we could do," de Araujo said. "Can you imagine if we had the facilities and advantages that all other athletes have?"

October Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from