traveled to Youngstown for the Peace Race and never left
By Joe Scalzo
He competed in the 1972 Olympics as a Bolivian marathoner, staying in the Olympic Village about 70 yards from the Munich Massacre.
He carried the flag for his country in the 1975 Pan Am Games in Mexico City, but was barred from the 1976 Olympics in Montreal for speaking out against corruption in the Bolivian Olympic Committee.
He’s run races in countries all over the world, including three Boston Marathons, where he finished 51st in 1975 with a career-best time of 2:24.20.
At age 65, he still drives an hour to work four times a week to craft $3,000 suits during 10-hour shifts, a trade he learned from his father. And on his off days, he puts in six-mile workouts that begin at 7 a.m.
Which all begs the question: How in the world did Ricardo Condori end up living in Boardman, Ohio?
And why is he still here?
How he got here
In June of 1980, Jack Cessna was on his way to give a speech about the Youngstown Peace Race when he stopped in a store to buy a copy of The Runner, a New York-based magazine that merged with Runner’s World in 1987.
The cover story was about a 29-year-old unemployed runner/ex-shepherd named Ricardo Condori who was living in the Andes Mountains with his parents, two brothers and a sister in a three-bedroom house that had no running water or bathrooms.
At the time, Condori was still dreaming of competing in the Moscow Olympics, but was mired in “political disfavor” for his comments about how Bolivian runners were treated at the Pan Am Games. Two weeks before those Games, the German coach hired by Bolivia (who had never worked with distance runners) had Bolivia’s marathoners run a full marathon. Condori finished in 2 hours, 36 minutes, then ran a 2:45.15 at the Games.
Condori had also complained about the Bolivian trainers and the paltry expense money and put his chances of competing in Moscow at “1,000 to one.”
“In my country, the one who directs the runners sits in an office,” said Condori, in a recent interview in his house in Boardman. “They’ve never in their life practiced a sport. What they do is just go find runners, organize them and ask the government and the Olympic Committee for money. They give the money to him and they administer the money, but it’s never enough for the runners.
“In the 1972 Olympics, the director’s wife was listed as a therapist. They would travel from town to town in the best hotels and take nice trips and are chauffeured in limousines while we were staying in the Village. They wouldn’t even watch their runners.”
Condori was still a 21-year-old high school student in 1972 — he didn’t graduate until age 25 — and the Munich marathon was just the second full-marathon of his life. He finished 58th out of 62 runners in 2:56.11 and over the next few years became one of his country’s most popular athletes and while his times weren’t world class, they were exceptional for a South American. But he grew tired of the way he was treated by Bolivian track officials, finally voicing his complaints to a journalist in 1975.
Those comments cost him a chance to compete at the Montreal Games, even though he was named his country’s track and field athlete of the year in 1976. It didn’t help that he was an Aymara Indian, an ethnic group that made up 25 percent of the population but didn’t have a single member on the Olympic committee.
While Condori was still holding out hope of making the 1980 Games, Cessna knew training in a cool, mountainous country wasn’t going to help him in Russia’s humid, low-altitude climate.
“I read the article and I said, ‘I’m gonna bring this guy here,’” said Cessna, who now lives in Utica, N.Y. “So I went and gave the talk, but rather than talking about the Peace Race, I talked about how I was going to create a fellowship for Ricardo.”
At the time, the Peace Race was a much more international race, drawing top runners from dozens of countries thanks to its large cash purses. Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic gold medalist, won the 1976 Peace Race, which doubled as the national championship in the 25K. A year later, legendary marathoner Bill Rodgers broke Shorter’s course record.
Cessna established a Peace Race fellowship, which would bring one international runner to Youngstown each year to train. He bought Condori’s plane ticket, got him a free room at the University Inn, got him free food from the man who owned the dormitory, got him a job cleaning the parking deck across the street and introduced him to one of the greatest loves of his life, Mill Creek Park.
“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of doing,” Cessna said of bringing Condori to America. “He was stuck in the mountains of Bolivia, living in poverty. If you could have seen the hut his parents were living in ...
“When Ray Bonner [who wrote the cover story about Condori] first heard that he was being awarded a Peace Race Fellowship for a year he called me and said something to the effect that the awarding of the fellowship made him aware that he made the correct choice in becoming a journalist.”
Why he’s still here
Condori ran the 1980 Peace Race — he struggled, as he was still adjusting to the climate — and spent the year training in Youngstown. At the end of the year, Cessna handed Condori a plane ticket and said, “You can go back or you can stay here. It’s up to you.”
“I said, ‘I like this country. I’ll stay here,’” Condori said.
Condori has been an American citizen for two decades. He and his wife, Jeanneth (also a native of Bolivia), have been married 21 years and belong to First Christian Church in Canfield. They have two children: Jaime, 23, a computer science major at YSU and Maya, 19, who is in the Navy. (Alas, both of them chose soccer over cross country, although Maya did run track.)
He works at Riley’s Clothiers, an upscale clothing store in Hudson, and lives a few minutes away from Mill Creek Park, where he still runs three times a week. His house features Bolivian flags, posters of the Bolivian cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz and pictures from his racing career.
And while he rarely competes, he still runs the Peace Race. Two years ago, he finished in 46:44.6 to win the 60-64 age group by almost 30 seconds.
“You always want to be better, but I run more for my health now,” he said. “And I love the park. That’s why I got this house, to be close to the park. I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else.”
On Oct. 26, the Peace Race will celebrate its 40th anniversary. The longest race is now only a 10K and it mostly features Mahoning Valley runners, but it still attracts a few international runners, including a pair of Kenyans won last year’s race.
And as long as his body holds up, the Peace Race will always feature at least one runner from Bolivia.
“They used to say to me in my country, ‘Ricardo, where are you going to run?’” Condori said. “I’d say, ‘I am going to see my girlfriend.’ I never had a girlfriend when I was running. You cannot [be distracted]. My girlfriend was running.
“When you’re in love with a girl when you’re young, you go and see her. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cold, rainy day or hot weather or whatever, as long as you see her and talk to her. Then you come back happy. That’s how I feel when I get to run.”