With a mountain to climb ahead of her
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The Chacaltaya ski centre, in addition to being the world's highest lift-served resort, is counted among the most attractive destinations in Bolivia. The glacial ridge, located over 5,300m above sea-level, has forever been a dream haunt for tourists. Over the last few months, however, Chacaltaya has been housing Claudia Balderrama's dreams of Olympic proportions. And along with it, those of an entire nation.
Despite having sent representatives to every one of the Games since 1964 —except 1980 — Bolivia still seeks its maiden Olympic medal. Balderrama, the 28-year-old race walker, will have to scale gargantuan heights to become her country's first-ever winner .
With trainer Duberty Flores around for constant surveillance, Balderrama's daily schedule involves waking up at 5am and walking around 20-30 kms up the mighty Chacaltaya range in the Andes.
"We are 5,300 metres above sea level. So, when we go down to compete, we get more oxygen. That will allow Claudia to have an advantage and be in better shape than other athletes," says Flores.
Balderrama, who will be Bolivia's flag-bearer in London, however, is not the first athlete to take the 'top-down approach' in the build-up to the Olympics. High-altitude endurance training has been a strategy utilised by a number of medal hopefuls for close to 45 years now. It came into vogue after the 1968 Olympics, where a number of athletes came a cropper in the harsh climes of Mexico City, located at an elevation of 2,240m. The endurance events suffered the most, with a number of below-par finishes.
The science behind high-altitude training is not too complex. It's all about getting the body used to less oxygen, while temporarily increasing the amount of red blood cells in the athlete's system. It also alters muscle metabolism in such a way that their body begins to adapt to these conditions. Moreover, it enhances their endurance capabilities greatly when they return to and compete at sea-level — especially if they are making the shift within 15-20 days — as more oxygen gets delivered to their muscles.
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