In 2009, Gabriel Mercedes and Yudelkis Contreras already had outstanding athletic careers, but they both found themselves on a crossroads; dividing their time between training and supporting their family, in addition to pursuing their college education. Neither athlete could come up with a specific plan to finish their career studies.
It is here when the Creando Sueños Olímpicos (CRESO) Program stepped in to guarantee that elite athletes could attend all the important competitions, allowing them to develop at a high level, and at the same time, offer them access to the academic training that would grant them the opportunity to lead productive lives once their sports careers came to an end. CRESO’s objective is that after the athletes have fulfilled their Olympic dreams, they can become part of the labor market with the skills that will allow them to assume leadership roles.
The history of the program began on a flight from New York to Santo Domingo in 2009, when the president of the Dominican Olympic Committee, Luisín Mejía Oviedo ran into businessman Felipe Vicini. There, they spoke about the situation of Dominican sports and how it could improve.
Back then, the Dominican Republic had won one Olympic gold medal in track and field, conquered by Félix Sánchez in the 400-meter hurdles in Athens 2004, as well as the gold Félix Díaz won in boxing, and the silver won by Mercedes in taekwondo both in Beijing 2008. In other words, in terms of medals, in that last year, a country with a GDP of USD$46.3 billion had tied with Portugal and its GDP of USD$249.8 billion.
How could such a small country achieve so much, and how could it do more? Three weeks after that conversation above the clouds, now with their feet firmly on the ground, they had the first meeting for the project, which was looking to boost the Olympic dreams of high-performance Dominican athletes. Later, a program was born supporting 15 sports disciplines –including track and field, taekwondo, weightlifting, handball, softball and fencing, a sport that Mr. Gianni Vicini, head of the third generation of the Vicini family, practiced in the national team–. The original investment was around half a million dollars, with 36 athletes benefiting from the program. In the beginning, these funds came from INICIA, formerly VICINI, after all the other family members, partners of the firm, supported Felipe’s initiative.
“CRESO represents a stability and fundamental support for high-performance athletes, because it guarantees that we can schedule a calendar of competitions. Sports can be properly planned thanks to the assurance that these funds coming from the program provide,” Mejía Oviedo explains.
The Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez 2010 was the first scenario where the results of the first investments by CRESO would be put to the test, and the results could not have been better. The handball team obtained their first gold medal as a team sport, while the fencing team, a sport which had never won medals in competitions at this level and that in 2003 did not even have a Federation, obtained with six medals. In the Pan American Games in Guadalajara in 2011, the country placed at 9TH in the medal count and 28 of the 33 medals conquered, were won by disciplines sponsored by the program.
This performance motivated other local companies such as Banco Popular, Grupo Rica, Grupo SID, Central Romana Corporation, Ferquido, Corripio, TOTAL and Seguros Universal to join the initiative. Thanks to the long-term commitment of the Dominican businesses, from 36 athletes who started in the program, the group has now grown to 90. The USD$500 thousand initial investment has grown to USD$1.5 million, and the goal set for 2020 is to have five additional partners to reach USD$2 million per year.
The partner companies provide the funds to CRESO, who then allocates 75% to the Dominican Olympic Committee and 25% to FUNDAPEC, to cover the educational costs.
CRESO’s goal is that each dollar invested in high-performance athletes is matched by the Government, jump-starting the sports which have a greater potential for success. As a matter of fact, choosing the disciplines with medal possibilities, is done thoughtfully by way of an external process.
First, the chosen athletes are recommended by the technical team of the Dominican Olympic Committee. After this, the sports federations present their projects, with the plans and athletes with Olympic potential, to be evaluated based on a four-year training cycle. At the end of each cycle, the results are analyzed to determine which sports can continue in the program, which ones have the potential to develop, and which others can be included, especially for Tokyo 2020.
In case an athlete has a longer-term projection, let’s say 8 years and not 4, their possibilities are assessed to secure support.
However, CRESO does not intend to base the success of Dominican athletes based on medals, but by the dreams they fulfill upon stepping on Olympic ground. Obviously, if those dreams turn out to be medals, even better. They are aware that if there are more athletes in the program, there will also be more athletes who can win, and CRESO’s goal is to contribute towards improving those numbers.
In the history of sports, many athletes have mismanaged their post-sports life simply because they lack a formal education. However, others like Moisés Alou and Stanley Javier have stood out for their education, becoming managers and businessmen.
Along those lines, CRESO’s idea is that the athlete’s productivity does not end when they awaken from the dream, but that it allows them to achieve financial stability even after their athletic career is over. That is why it provides its beneficiaries educational support at high school, college and masters level, as well as professional and psychological counseling to help them become leaders, not only on the playing field but also in life. That is why two sports counselors help them manage and improve their self-esteem, emotional intelligence and social adaptation skills.
Gabriel Mercedes and Yudelkis Contreras are two perfect examples of this process. Both will major in accounting this year from the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo and the Pedro Henríquez Ureña University (UNPHU), respectively. Both have been sports leaders and now have the chance to channel these strengths to other areas. With CRESO’s support, they will surely be the first of many sports glories that will benefit the country in more than one aspect of their lives.