Lessons learned: Oscar Ticas on shattered Olympic dreams and doping suspension

Medellin last hosted a stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in 2016. Included in that event was the America’s qualification tournament for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

It was there that Oscar Ticas won a space for El Salvador.

It was also there that Oscar was informed he had tested positive for a banned substance at a prior competition. It meant he was retrospectively disqualified, the place was stripped and, eventually, he received a 12-month ban from the sport.

“It was the third day of competition when I found out about my test being positive. I thought they were kidding. It was two-and-a-half months since the test had been made,” said Oscar.

He had been called for an anti-doping test during the finals of a world ranking event in Guatemala early in the season. It had found evidence of an anabolic steroid in his system.

During his trial, Oscar said that he been given a cream called Neobol to treat a scratch on his knee by a physiotherapist. Neobol contains steroids, which are banned.

“I lost my place at the Olympics and many other things,” he said. “No more scholarships, no more sponsors, I couldn’t train, I couldn’t practice any other professional sport either… there’s a very clear and big rulebook about it.”

Something somebody from the World Anti-Doping Agency said has stuck with Oscar.

It was that it was not the suspension that would hurt him. It was the fact that he would be not be competing at the Olympic Games in 2016 that would be most painful.

“The feeling of not being able to compete at those Games after winning the spot, I can’t describe it because, back in time, I felt it was like if a huge rock me had hit me and covered me completely,” said Oscar.

“I didn’t even cry, but I was between extremely upset and frustrated because I lost everything I had put in. It’s bad it happened, but I have learned my lesson.”

Ticas returned to archery in May 2017, his suspension complete, and made the national team again one month later. His first event with the squad was back at the field in Guatemala where he had failed his doping test.

“I was feeling a bit strange, like I didn’t want to be there, but I wanted to compete still. I was worried, you know. Ever since I’ve been trying to gain back everything I lost,” said Oscar.

“I was thinking about the comments, about what my colleagues will tell me, but I got there, passed the page and the answer was actually very positive. They welcomed me again.”

The process has been long, but Oscar is back on the competition field in Medellin, shooting at the Hyundai Archery World Cup stage in 2019. He’s retained the support of his national team and works part-time as a coach in a school.

As the qualification period for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games nears, he is back in a position to give getting to the Games another shot. He said he still sees himself fighting for a spot.

It’ll be a story of ups and downs, disaster and redemption, if he gets there.

“I tried to qualify for Beijing, London and then Rio. I came short for London, after losing in a shoot-off to a European archer. My main goal for Rio was even higher. I applied for the Olympics scholarship in my country and I won it. I wanted to qualify for Rio, and it happened,” said Oscar.

The culmination of 12 years of training ended up in a 12-month suspension, rather than a trip to the Olympics. It’s a heartbreaking story.

“You are the only person responsible for whatever goes in your body. No matter if you are being advised by the best doctor in the world,” said Oscar, recounting something else he heard from someone during his hearing.

“That’s my biggest learning from the whole experience. Search, read, investigate and learn from someone else’s mistakes. There’s a lot of information and then it’s your decision to do or take something, or not.”

Oscar will shoot at the Pan American Games in Lima this summer and represent El Salvador at the 2019 Hyundai World Archery Championships.

“I have an opportunity to get on track ahead of those big events. I want to fight for a medal and to qualify for the Olympics as well,” he said. “It’s hard, but not impossible.”

Competition at the first stage of the 2019 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Medellin, Colombia begins with qualification on Tuesday 23 April.