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Ruben Sanca fails to qualify for 5,000 final, but relishing his Olympic experience

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  August 8, 2012 07:34 AM

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Ruben Sanca, the former O'Bryant High and UMass-Lowell runner who grew up in Dorchester, finished last in his heat of the men's 5,000 meters at the Olympics on Wednesday and did not qualify for Saturday's final.

Sanca, competing for Cape Verde, finished in 14 minutes, 35.19 seconds in the second heat. Top qualifer Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia had a time of 13:15.15.

Before the race, Boston.com Olympics intern Amy Gorel interviewed Sanca in London about his experience at the Olympics. Her video report is above, story below.

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Former University of Massachusetts Lowell runner Ruben Sanca said that his goal at the London 2012 Olympic Games was to make the final for the 5,000 meter race.

“If that happens, I think, for myself, that would be almost like winning a gold medal,” said Sanca outside the Olympic Village just a few days before his first race.

Sanca, 25, is representing Cape Verde.

“I’m honored to be here for my country and I hope to inspire other people from my country to keep running and try to reach this level,” Sanca said.

Sanca emigrated from Cape Verde at the age of 12 to settle in Boston, where he attended O’Bryant High School and began to take his running career seriously.

“A lot of my older teammates from high school who knew from day one, when I stepped into practice in ninth grade, that I was going to take it serious—I really wanted to do the best that I could for the sport. And I’m happy to be here as a celebration, not just for me, but also for them—my teammates and coaches,” he said.

He later ran at the University of Massachusetts Lowell where he received his MBA and works as business manager for student affairs. He took vacation time to travel to London for the Games.

Sanca, a first time Olympian, made it to London as a wild card selection for Cape Verde.

“This shows that most of my work is paying off. I’m able to go back and say I have to do this because I’m an Olympian,” Sanca said.

Making it to the London Olympics is not something Sanca and his coach, Gary Gardner, envisioned when they began working together six years ago.

“But it’s nice to be here and a blessing for both of us to get to this level,” Gardner said.

Sanca did not expect much recognition when he first arrived in London.

“Especially at games, there are always people trying to get autographs. I’m not a medalist or anything, but people still, because you’re an Olympian, try to get autographs,” Sanca explained smiling.

One of his favorite memories so far was entering the Olympic Stadium for Opening Ceremonies, where he described hundreds of thousands of children along the track asking for autographs and high-fives.

Living in the Olympic Village, surrounded by other athletes with similar stories, has been inspiring, said Sanca.

“The Olympians that are here, some of them have really inspiring stories about how they got here and it’s really cool to hear their stories and say ‘Hey, we’ve been through the same thing’.”

At the same time, those athletes are out in the arenas breaking records and winning medals.

“Then they come back to the dining hall and you’re like ‘Oh, that’s the girl that just broke the world record',” Sanca said.

Sanca said his family and friends were unable to travel to London to see his event. Nevertheless, his family was able to see him walk during the Opening Ceremony and was planning to watch his performance online.

Coach Gardner said e-mails, Twitter and Facebook messages have been pouring in with support and well wishes from both Massachusetts and Cape Verde.

Sanca said being at the Olympics will make him more confident in his training because “I know I’m supposed to be here for my next Olympics."

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