Thursday, November 26

Ernesto Canto, Mexico’s golden marcher, dies

Ernesto Canto celebrates his triumph in Los Angeles.
Ernesto Canto celebrates his triumph in Los Angeles.Dave Tenenbaum / AP

Mexico’s Olympic champions are counted on the fingers. In the entire history of the Olympic Games, the country has tasted the gold medal thirteen times. One of them belongs to Ernesto Canto (Mexico City, 1959-2020). The golden marcher signed his winning trail in Los Angeles 1984. On that afternoon of August 3, Canto broke the 20 kilometer mark in an hour 18 minutes and 38 seconds which no one could break for 10 years. He was a competitor with the number 632 on his chest. The feat was even better for the Mexicans because another of their number, Raúl González, finished second. The 1-2 on the podium, not seen by Mexicans since London 1948 in horsemanship.

Canto passed away this Friday from liver and pancreatic cancer. His first competitions were held when he was nine years old. As a youth he competed in Canada, Puerto Rico and Bulgaria. The great international victory he achieved in his early years was by winning the Lugano Cup in Valencia in Spain. Canto was the Mexican athlete who won it all. Between 1982 and 1984 he triumphed in the Central American and Caribbean Games, the Pan American Games, the World Championship and, finally, gold in the Los Angeles Olympic Games. The eighties enshrined his career worldwide, in 1983 he was awarded by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF, now World Athletics) with the award for best athlete in his discipline.

After Canto, there were no Mexican marching champions until the emergence of Lupita González, who won gold at the World Championships in Rome and in Taicang (China), in 2016 and 2018, respectively. At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, González took the silver and became the first Mexican to win it in that competition. His triumph commemorated the glory of Canto and his idol, Daniel Bautista.

Ernesto Canto, after retiring in 1989, decided to get involved in public administration. He was deputy director of sports and recreational activities at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), he was in charge of the Physical Culture and Sports division of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) and of sports activities at the Institute of Security and Social Services for State Workers (ISSSTE). Canto tried to carry out his sports discipline in the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (Prosecutor’s Office) and even worked for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Ernesto Canto’s triumph in Los Angeles 1984 was questioned. The former Soviet Union gave up participating in the Olympics due to tension with the host, the United States. The gallantry of the Mexican was stronger than his competitors since a year before when he conquered the World March and no Soviet athlete could take away the first place. Canto’s endurance leaves an indelible mark on athletics.

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