The reality of Donovan Carrillo’s achievement sank in when the public address announcer called out after he scored a 79.69 in the short program: “He’s currently ranked in third place.”
Carrillo, wearing a red tracksuit with the Mexican flag emblazoned above the Olympic logo, raised both arms into the air, jumped three times and yelled, “Siii!” The smile was visible, even under his black mask. He embraced his coaches. Carrillo knew: He was moving on to Wednesday’s free skate -- uncharted waters for any skater from Mexico.
Carrillo, 22, was born in Zapopan, Mexico. He trained in diving and gymnastics before he found figure skating — which he only started doing after he followed his older sister, Daphne, to a skating rink and began taking lessons because he liked a girl in the class.
It turns out skating would mean much more to Carrillo than just a childhood crush.
“I tried it and I felt like I was a fish in the water,” Carrillo said in 2019 to International Figure Skating Magazine. “I felt free and like I found the place where I belonged.”
'Work with what I have'
Carrillo began skating with the Mexican national team in 2013, and made his international debut in 2017. He idolized Spain’s Javier Fernandez, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist, because Fernandez also came from a country where figure skating was not a popular sport. In Mexico, Carrillo trained at a shopping mall ice rink during public sessions.
“It’s challenging,” Carrillo said after Tuesday's short program. “I’m not lying. But instead of regretting myself and thinking of what I don’t have, I always try to work with what I have.”
Carrillo won three Mexican championships, and last year, he became the first Mexican skater to qualify for the Olympics in 30 years after placing 20th at the World Championships.
Proving people wrong
Carrillo’s short program showed that he wasn’t satisfied with simply being in the Olympics. He scored a personal best, skating to Carlos Santana and looking like he was having the time of his life.
“I had a great time on the ice,” Carrillo said. “Besides doing my best short program of the season, my favorite part was the ‘performance.’ I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to keep skating and living the Olympic dream.”
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The skate included a well-executed quadruple toeloop. Carrillo had been working to get comfortable with quads for years. He started attempting a quad salchow at the beginning of the season, but hadn’t been consistent. Prior to the Olympics, he decided to go for the toeloop.
The jump was “my cherry on the cake,” according to Carrillo.
“I think it was the best decision we made,” Carrillo said. “That was the best part of my program.”
Carrillo will skate sixth in Wednesday’s free skate (8:30 p.m. ET). He may not medal, but he’ll make history. Many people told Carrillo at the beginning of his career that skating in the Olympics was a “crazy dream.” Laughed at him. Told him it wouldn’t be possible.
Nobody’s laughing now. On Wednesday, he’ll have an entire country behind him as his Olympic dream-turned-reality continues.
"I always tried to push harder and harder, competition through competition, to try to be the best version of myself,” Carrillo said. “I want people in Latin America and in my country to think about it, to have their big goals and go for it."