Ramos running toward Olympics
DARWIN, Australia (AP) -- Victor Ramos fled into the mountains, taking his young family and a 40-kilogram sack of rice. As gunfire echoed in the distance, he left behind his home and the gym at which he had become a champion.
By the time he emerged from hiding a month later, his home was burned and the gym was looted of everything down to his boxing gloves. But no one was able to rob Ramos of his Olympic hopes.
A year after barely escaping pro-Indonesia militiamen, Ramos will represent East Timor -- the world's newest nation -- in the boxing ring at the Sydney Games.
Ramos is among nine Timorese athletes training in this north Australian port. The boxers, runners, weightlifters and a taekwondo fighter received scholarships to train in Darwin because of the devastation in their homeland.
"Up there in the mountains, we couldn't do any training. We were just trying to survive and looking for roots to eat," Ramos said. "After, we had very light training because there was no equipment. Everything was destroyed."
The 800,000 people of East Timor voted last Aug. 30 to break free from Indonesia, sparking a rampage by anti-independence militias.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, after Portugal ended its 400-year colonial administration.
The militias left Dili, the capital of East Timor, in a shambles. Marathoner Mariana Diaz Ximenes, who was unable to train between September and March, came down from her hillside hiding place to find devastation.
"We were running in the city, we were running on the beach, we were still running in the stadium even though it was destroyed," she said.
East Timor is under United Nations administration and does not yet fulfill criteria for Olympic recognition, but the International Olympic Committee bowed to pressure from Australia and other nations and gave the Timorese the chance to send up to four athletes to the Sydney Games.
Twenty athletes were nominated, and 10 were chosen for training in Darwin. One taekwondo fighter got tuberculosis and could not enter Australia.
They arrived in Darwin on July 14 and will stay through Sept. 15, with those chosen for the Olympics remaining in Australia until Oct. 1. Ramos is the only one who definitely has an Olympic spot. The others will find out in mid-August.
Marathoner Aguida Amaral had one pair of pink-and-white sneakers that she managed to grab before fleeing the violence. They had become so worn by the time she reached Darwin that she developed blisters and her toes became black.
During a training run one day down Darwin's streets, she took the shoes off with five kilometres to go and finished the workout barefoot.
Amaral had on new sneakers as she and Diaz Ximenes went for a 20-kilometre run in the predawn cool of a recent Friday morning, startling a worker pouring concrete as they loped past with a rhythmic patter.
When finished, the marathoners joined three other Timorese outside their dorm rooms. Amaral leaned on an old blue Volkswagen bus while stretching. Diaz Ximenes did stretching exercises on a mat in the parking lot.
On the other side of town, Ramos and two other boxers were punching heavy bags and sparring in a shed behind the Italian Club. Ramos, a lightweight, glistened with sweat in the morning sun -- revealing a four-inch scar on his back.
Ramos said he got the scar as a five-year-old when struck by shrapnel from a mortar during Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975.
Ramos went on to become a silver medallist while fighting for Indonesia at the 1997 Southeast Aisan Games. He knew he'd be targeted when the militias went on their rampage in East Timor.
"The boxing team, we represented Indonesia on other occasions and now we were campaigning against them," he said through an interpreter. "So they came after us."
The Timorese will march with white uniforms and carry the Olympic flag, rather than their own, in the opening ceremony. But Diaz Ximenes said the world will know who they represent.
"I feel happy because I'm running for my country," she said. "I feel very happy to know people will see what East Timor is."