This is part two of my interview with Oliverio Rincon (for part one, go here), who raced in Europe for seven seasons while winning stages in each of the grand tours. He also worked as directeur sportif at Team Colombia, and now works as a dairy farmer in Duitama, Colombia. In this installment, we discuss his current life, but also the episodes around his kidnappings (plural) in the course of two months in 2000, a very different time in Colombia's past. One vastly different from where the country stands today. Thanks again to Oliverio for his time.
You worked for three seasons as a directeur sportif with Team Colombia. That has now come to an end. What are you up to now, and how will you be spending your time this season?
Before my time with Team Colombia, I actually had no real contact with cycling for about twelve years. I still loved cycling, and would watch some races. Well, in Colombia cycling is something that you listen to on the radio, so I would listen to races, but that was about it. I rode my bike a few times for about a two-year period, but that was it. What I do, and how I make my living is through my farm. My farm has cows for milk production.
Yes, Holstein cows. We usually have anywhere from 70 to 80 cows. We breed them, take care of them, and do the milking operation as well. It’s a business I’ve been in for some time, and I keep working at.
So my last questions revolve around a tough subject to bring up. You were kidnapped, not once but twice, in two months in 2000. Can you tell me about that experience? It’s hard for me to even bring up.
Nah, don’t worry about it. You know how things were in Colombia at the time, because you are from here. From the 80s, to the 90s and early 2000s. It was a difficult time here. To give you a bigger picture, let me explain it this way. Fame became a problem, because everyone knew who you were. And back then, big-time business people, who were their ideal targets at first, were hard to get to. They were immune, so we jokingly called it being “vaccinated” against kidnapping. Well, a lot of the really rich powerful people had been “vaccinated” against kidnapping, so they started working their way down to lower and lower rungs down the ladder. Eventually, they got to people like me. People who didn’t really have much money, but were well known. So no one was safe. And this was how I ended up in that position.
It feels weird to even utter these words, but tell me about the first of the two times that you were kidnapped.
The first time was difficult because I was with my kids. They were young, and it was very hard for them to see that. I was at my parents’ house, within the farm. They followed me, and that’s where I was kidnapped.
At the time, I would see what was happening around the country, but like always, you assume that it will never reach you. And then it does. But oddly enough, fame was what got me kidnapped, but it’s what got me out as well. The press, the people in the streets, everyone supported me in an amazing way. The outpouring of emotion about me being kidnapped was such that I was freed. In fact, it was members of the press who were able to contact leaders in the guerrillas, who spoke on my behalf, and my release was ordered shortly thereafter.
Were you kidnapped strictly for monetary reasons? I mean, were they just looking for ransom? Sometimes the kidnapping was strategic, and they would send the person back with a message for the press.
It was purely driven by money. At the time, guerrilla groups made their money that way. It wasn’t that I was a strategic target, in order for them to get press, and get some message out. Actually, one thing that I learned through this process is that guerrilla groups act independently of their top leadership. They make decisions regarding targets, and how they’ll make money. They in turn send part of that money up the chain. So the top leaders don't necessarily always know who is being targeted. It was those top guys that the press contacted, and they weren’t even aware it seemed. I was the first athlete who was kidnapped, so people were outraged, they marched, and they heard about it from every side. And at the end of the day, all I had was fame, but not money. But they didn’t know that. My fame, and people's love for cycling got me out.
Lucho Herrera was kidnapped between the two times you were kidnapped, and Jose Beyaert [first even Olympic medalist in road cycling] fled Colombia after it was clear that he’d be kidnapped too. Lucho even took part in a march in Bogota for your freedom. Anyway, You were the first in a string of such kidnappings. You say you had money, but didn’t have the kind of money they’d be looking for. And yet, did they contact your family?
No, and that’s because kidnappers use one thing to their advantage: time. They use time to pressure families. The more time goes by, the more desperate people become. That’s how they apply pressure, slowly. They are in absolutely no hurry. I was freed to early for any of that to happen, thankfully.
What about the second time? That time, you were taken with your wife and your two sons [ages 3 and 5]. They were freed the morning after. Where did they kidnap you that time?
I was also around the farm again. Second time in two months. First time it was the ELN, second time it was the FARC. In that time, if one group got you, the other would come around and want some too. It was an odd competition.
After having lived through such a thing, do you struggle with memories of the kidnappings? Is it something that haunts you, or manifests itself in any way today?
For some time I did. I had engrained memories of the whole thing, and I struggled with that. But luckily, the mind has a way of slowly forgetting details over the years, and new memories start to sort of delete over old ones. But to be honest with you, what was hardest for me was seeing my kids deal with it, because they were too young, and didn’t understand what was happening. It was hard on them, and conversely hard on me to see them go through that. I’m just happy that today I’m calm, I’m free and I have no problems. I’m thankful for that every day.