Joaquim Cruz at the 2022 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships in June. (Photo: Rick Stephens)
Joaquim Cruz, a 1984 Olympic champion and a U.S. Paralympics track and field coach, was honored.
When the World Athletics Championships came to the United States in July for the first time in history and was held at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Cruz, a three-time Brazilian Olympian, was chosen to serve as Honorary Team Leader for the Brazil delegation.
“It was the honor of all honors to be a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team and at the same time be able to serve as an honorary team leader for the Brazilian track and field,” Cruz said. “It showed the spirits of collaboration between the organizations of the two countries.”
Cruz said it was the first time in Brazil’s track and field history that an Olympian was picked to lead a delegation for an international competition.
Cruz became the first Brazilian to win an Olympic gold medal in the men’s 800-meter run when he won the event in 1984 in Los Angeles. He won an Olympic silver medal in the 800 four years later and also won a bronze medal at the 1983 world championships. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Brazilian Olympic Committee in 2019.
He has been a coach with U.S. Paralympics since 2005 and is now resident track and field coach at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in California, a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic training site. Cruz helped lead the U.S. squad to 41 medals in track and field at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, trailing only China in the medal standings.
The trip to Hayward Field was a bit of a homecoming.
Cruz set a junior world record in the 800 in 1981 and two years later accepted a track scholarship at the University of Oregon. He won two NCAA titles in 1984 while competing for the Ducks at Hayward Field and held Pacific-10 Conference records in the 800 and 1,500.
“It was nice to be back home,” he said.
His favorite spot at the world championships was the warmup track, where he spent hours watching athletes prepare their events. He was able to witness Brazilian history as Olympic bronze medalist Alison Dos Santos rocked the world by winning the men’s 400 hurdles.
“I had the opportunity to walk around the Hayward Field stadium and I knew the University of Oregon had been a place of deep traditions, but it was great to see the class of great athletes and coaches inspiring the new generations of athletes and coaches,” Cruz said.
“I connected with fans who didn’t have a chance to meet me personally when I was an athlete. We took pictures together, I met with former Olympians from different nations and we shared good memories. I felt like a citizen of the world in the sport.”
Cruz, who has coached three-time Paralympian and 2016 Paralympic gold medalist David Brown, is now back in Chula Vista helping athletes prepare for the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris next summer and will be using his time in Eugene as motivation in his coaching.
“The recognition meant a lot to me as a Brazilian-American citizen,” he said. “I didn’t know how the Brazilian coaches, athletes and the media would react when they saw me wearing the USA uniform. I was surprised how receptive and happy they were for me. In Eugene, I had the same treatment from the American coaches, athletes, and fans. It was the honor of all honors.”