He may have come in dead last, but he did it in style.
As McAllen resident Gérman Madrazo pushed toward the finish line of the men’s 15-kilometer cross-country skiing race at the 2018 Winter Olympics, he pulled off to the side of the course and was handed a Mexican flag.
“He grabs the flag, good on him,” said one Olympics commentator describing the action. “This is brilliant.”
Waiting for him with cheers and open arms were a few other competitors who brought up the rear, including racers representing Colombia, Morocco, Portugal and Tonga.
“He’s making the most of this,” said the commentator. “It’s been a hard, hard race for him.”
When Madrazo finally reached the finish line, nearly a half hour after the first-place finisher had already completed the race, his four fellow athletes helped him remove his equipment before hoisting the Olympian who had only taken up the sport last year up onto their shoulders.
Said another commentator, “You’d think Madrazo just won gold.”
Oddly enough, as Madrazo enjoys the celebrity that his now viral moment of celebration is bringing him, another internet star was right there with him.
Among the group that carried the Mexican skier was none other than Tonga athlete Pita Taufatofua, best known for his shirtless, oiled-up appearances as his country’s flag bearer.
“I would rather finish toward the end of the pack with all of my friends than somewhere in the middle by myself,” said Taufatofua, who took up the sport last year after competing in taekwondo at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. “We fought together, we finish together.”
Madrazo, who carried the Mexican flag in the opening ceremony, was moved by the show of support.
“Today, Pita and I hugged and said again, ‘We live to fight another day,’” Madrazo said. “It made me cry. It was the best feeling ever.”
Taufatofua, Madrazo and several others literally went around the world to qualify for the Winter Games, forging tight friendships along the way in pursuit of a common goal.
They tried cross-country qualifying races in Armenia, Poland, Turkey and Austria. And failed.
Finally, they traveled to Iceland and made it in the last qualifying race before the Pyeongchang Games, spending nearly every last penny they had to reach their Olympic dream.
“Pita and I spent two months, fighting and fighting every day,” Madrazo said. “One day, we were completely out of money and we had one last chocolate bar. There was nothing left and we split that chocolate bar and said, ‘Well brother, we live to fight another day.’”
Madrazo had to call home to get a flight back from Iceland, having only bought a one-way ticket because that was all he could afford.
His story is not unique.
The 15-kilometer freestyle is the United Nations of cross-country skiing races. There was Kequyen Lam of Portugal, Sebastian Uprimny of Colombia and Klaus Jungbluth Rodriguez of Ecuador among the late finishers after most of the crowd had left. Syed Human of Pakistan and Samir Azzimani of Morocco were there, too.
None of them are elite cross-country skiers, but they were all eager to represent their country at the Pyeongchang Games.
The work those men put in to qualify for the Olympics was not lost on gold medalist Dario Cologna, a three-peat gold medalist in the event.
“I think it’s good to have many skiers from many countries here,” Cologna said. “I think we have around 60 nations. I suppose we are fighting for medals here, but it is good to feel this Olympic spirit. We have had a lot of bad news (in the world) recently, so it’s good to keep up this Olympic spirit.”
The Associated Press and Tribune News Service contributed to this report.