The Journey of an Olympic Stalwart

(ATR) Olegario Vázquez Raña talks about his 70 years in sport in the first of a three part interview.

(ATR) From a teenage prodigy to federation leader, Olegario Vázquez Raña made his mark on sport shooting.

For 38 years he served as president of the International Sports Shooting Federation, retiring late last year to allow Vladimir Lisin to succeed him.

He was an IOC member from 1995 until 2015 when he retired, now with honorary status.

In the first of a three part series,Vázquez Raña talks with ATR’s Miguel Hernandez about his career in sport. Hernandez, a celebrated Cuban sports journalist, has covered Olegario Vazquez Raña

since March 1975 when he saw him for the first time at the Mexican Olympic Sports Center.

"I would like to be remembered as a normal person" - Olegario Vázquez Raña

I ask Olegario Vázquez Raña, one of the most powerful businessmen in Mexico and the last member of the IOC in Mexico how he would like to be remembered.

"Like normal people," he replies.

And he says it with the smile that almost always has accompanied him.

"I have been and I am a happy person who sees life as an opportunity to always be happy, smiling and kind," he says.

"If I ever have a problem with someone, I try to solve it on the same day so it does not get bigger," he tells Around the Rings in his first interview in 2019.

Olegario Vázquez Raña is not one who likes to pop into the public to talk about himself. He does, however, have reasons to boast.

"Indeed, I have not given many interviews. I own media and I have never liked being a protagonist," he says.

But my request to interview him was kept alive on the desk of his office thanks to Grace Hahn, his affable and talented Mexican assistant for 20 years. She has also worked closely with Vázquez Raña at the Angeles Business Group, the corporation founded by Olegario in 1998. The company has businesses in health, tourism, finance and communication sectors, with more than 30,000 employees.

Patience was the advice from Hahn. "MisterVázquez does not stop for a minute," she warns me. And then my day arrived.

The Transition to New Leadership

At 83, Olegario has passed the title of president of the International Sports Shooting Federation to a successor, Vladimir Lisin of Russia.

There are those who speculate that the vote for the new federation president could be viewed as the result of complicated situation in terms of unity. Do you believe it?

"No," he says categorically.

"The new president is a man who will work for sport. He started and made a donation of $10 million, although in the account of the Federation there were $7.8 million when I retired and with this he will be able to help competitors who need it."

Many believe that it will be very difficult to find "a new Olegario". He is considered the father of modern sports shooting, someone whose tenure marks a before and after in one of the emblematic sports of the Olympic Games.

In September 2018 Vázquez Raña received the official farewell tribute during a world championship in South Korea, the same place where in 1978 he first attended a general assembly of the international federation as a delegate. Two years later, he was elected for his first term as president of the ISSF. He never gave a thought that he might serve for 38 more years.

And what was the key to serving nine terms at the helm of the ISSF?

"Honesty and being surrounded by an intelligent team that always supported me to never make mistakes," he tells me.

"Dad and mom have taught me since I was a kid that you have to be honest and correct, and always speak the truth."

A Prodigy Blooms in Mexico

Olegario was born on December 10, 1935 in Mexico City. His parents, Venancio Vázquez Álvarez and María Raña Antas, arrived from Spain in 1925. They were fleeing the hunger resulting from the failed croplands in Galicia, part of a wave of migration from Spain to Mexico.

There were six children: Aurelio, Sara, Apolinar, Mario, Olegario and Abel, in that order.

Olegario set out to win, working hand to hand, shoulder to shoulder with his brothers and under the aegis of the "old man". He was just nine when he started working in the family business.

The small furniture store in Colonia Guerrero took plenty of his time. With some sacrifice, along with his brothers, he managed to continue his studies at a nearby school.

It was as a teenager that he performed a "miracle" that would influence his life in sport. One day in the early 1950s, purely by chance, he took a gun in his hands for the first time.

It happened when he visited the home of a friend of the family, the engineer Roberto Nungaray. He was struck by the trophies in the room. He then learned from his host that they had been won in shooting competitions.

Nungary invited Olegario to accompany him the following Sunday to the Los Gamitos field, the venue where the best shooters from Mexico City took aim.

By Olegario’s account that day there were about 400 competitors. Nungaray registered him as a rookie, the young Vázquez Raña accepted the unexpected challenge.

In the middle of the field, the friend explained to him the handling of the weapons, lent him his caliber rifle .22, and fired at tiny silhouettes at several distances. Later when Vázquez Raña was about to return home, he was told he had qualified to play a final tie-breaker for the first place in the tournament. He could not believe it.

The competition began. And it ended when he hit the target and the opponent missed. His first gold medal. The shooters began to ask where the stranger had come from. Nungaray was speechless.

And how did Venancio and Maria receive the news that their son was a good shot? Did they worry about any danger?

"Well, very well." He says. Also, the weapons I used carried a single round. An Olympic rifle weighs 4 or 5 kilograms and only carries a 22-caliber ammunition. They are not weapons of war or attack, but truly sports."

From that moment he first took a gun in his hands, he began to practice the seven days of the week, with shots at 150 and 200 meters.

As a burst his name began to pass from mouth to mouth. When there was some competition, everyone said "Olegario has arrived."

In a year and a half he would become the best shooter in Mexico.

(More about Olegario Vázquez Raña's career in sport shooting and the Olympics in part two.)

Reported and written by Miguel Hernandez. Translation and editing by Ed Hula.