BEIJING, (AP) – Sprinter Beouch Ngirchongor wakes up every morning at 5 a.m. to train for an hour before going to his job as a carpenter in the Northern Mariana Islands.
After work, it’s back to the track, where he runs alone. “I have a coach, but no more athletes, they’ve all gone to college,” he says.
For Ngirchongor, all the hard work paid off this week when he competed on the same track as Usain Bolt in the preliminaries of the 200 meters at the world championships.
He posted the slowest time of all 54 runners in the field, finishing more than three seconds behind Bolt, but set a new personal best of 23.93 seconds.
“It was a dream to me,” he said. “When I was in middle school, I keep thinking how I’m going to make it to the worlds, then I just turn 21 in May, and I made it here. It was an honor.”
Although their stays in Beijing have mostly been short, the opportunity to compete on such a big stage is a rare one for athletes from the far flung Pacific islands.
Ngirchongor (pronounced NEER-won-gor) has competed in Australia a few times, but never outside Oceania — and never in a stadium as big as the Bird’s Nest.
“It feels awesome,” he said. “It’s motivation because back home it’s only me running.”
Fijian long jumper Waisale Dausoko is only 19 and still in high school but he, too, benefited from the experience of competing against top-flight competition.
He’s one of two Fijian athletes here, along with sprinter Ratu Banuve Tabakaucoro, who was knocked out in the second round of the 100 meters.
“The atmosphere and everything, the crowd was so big,” said Dausoko, who finished last in the long jump preliminaries with a mark of 6.89 meters, more than 1.5 meters behind eventual champion Greg Rutherford.
Dausoko started competing in the long jump three years ago and is only able to train for part of the year when his Fijian coaches are available.
“I need to work on my skills and techniques,” he said.
Ngirchongor, likewise, has limited resources back home in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory of 52,000 people in the North Pacific.
He doesn’t have sponsors or government funding so his parents help support him. He’s hoping to join a brother living in Texas next year to continue training.
Even more established athletes have trouble with funding.
Jeremy Dodson lives and trains in Colorado and competed for the United States in the 200 meters at the 2011 world championships. Last year, he switched nationalities to compete for Samoa — where his mother is from — and launched a kick-starter campaign to pay for training.
“It’s kind of hard to raise money if you don’t have a huge corporate sponsor,” he said on Wednesday before being eliminated in the 200-meter semifinals. Racing for Samoa was definitely not a “money move,” he said.
“They don’t have any money at all.”
For Ngirchongor, all that matters is that he had a chance to run in the same stadium as Bolt. Even if he hadn’t yet worked up the nerve to approach him.
“Whoa, I was so amazed. I was like, ‘Should I meet him?” he said. “Maybe after the competition.”