“Never get too much affection with any of the players, they are selfish, one day they’ll just leave you behind and that will hurt you”. The advice came from Luis Garcia, the trainer of CD Alcoyano – my hometown football team – in 1996. At that time I collaborated as an assistant trainer in different sections of the football school of the club. I have no idea how to do anything without affection. Neither that I have thought much about those words in all these years…
Until some weeks ago, when Ya told me that he would follow a different training program to mine the last four weeks before the national track and field championship hold last week in Borikhamxay while we were cooling down. At the beginning I did not understand very well what he meant; perhaps because we communicate in a mixture of few Lao (me) – English (he) words, and because just few hours before we had been discussing on which distances he would run during the championships. Without Ya but with other 6 athletes the trainings continued. Day after day I understood better the Ya’s decission. Different provinces start recruiting runners when a major championship gets close. Depending on the province for which they will compete, runners can get between 40,000 (5US$) and 60,000 (7US$) Kip per training and 3 and 4 million kip per medal. In a country like Laos this is a lot, and for young people like Ya this money is essential to pay his studies or to support his family. In Ya’s particular situation, the club for which he was asked to run had told him to follow the program of another coach. Not doing that might have put him in a difficult situation for the future; after all I am just another foreigner that will leave Laos as I came. However, Ya still joined the group in many of the trainings, specially when his coach was not around or when that coach had forgotten to think about a programme for that day. The situation of the other runners was different. The coach of the province they run for is an “all-time smiling woman” who seats on the track, looks at what we do, pays the runners, smiles and goes home. Oh yes, she gets paid by someone from that province, but don’t ask me where the money comes from, or what they pay her for. A good friend who has experienced this for more than 20 years had already warned me that this type of coaches appear and disappear before and after championships.
The championships came, the runners travelled to Borikhamxay and a dengue fever avoided that I could cheer them there. Curious to know their results, I went yesterday to the stadium in the center of Vientiane. Their smiles when they saw me gave me a good feeling, which was confirmed when I asked if they were happy with the results: 14medals! Touly won the 800 and 1500 meters. Souk won 3,000 and 10,000 meters. Souvany was second in 1500, 3000 and 10,000 meters (and promissed that she will run only in 2 distances next time; I do not believe her). Koud, who I had not seen the last 2 weeks, was third in 800 and 1500. Who is that girl who got second in the 800? As for the boys, Seyxana won the 800, 1500, 5000 and 10,000. I accept that it will be impossible to convince him to run less events nex time. I have lost that war. Tom was second in the 1500. And Ya? Ya got second in the 5,000 and 10,000.
The group has now two weeks of rest as the will travel to rural provinces to visit their families. In the mean time, Emma and Sirivanh have started to look for sponsors to take the group to run in the 10 Km of Ankor Wat, Cambodia.
– “Atchan Alex, me also possible to Ankor Wat?”
– “Yes Ya, you can also come with us to Ankor Wat if we find sponsors”. Welcome back (if you were ever gone).
PS – I guess that I will not see other coaches until few weeks before the next championships, something that in Laos you never know when that will be.
PS II – I understood that Huaphan province pays athletes from money they make out of logging and mining. I do not know how to feel about it. I hope it was legal…