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De Oliveira would have none of this. He is an energetic, nail-biting man, and it remains his conviction that if anything is to be achieved, it must be attempted.
"He kept after me," says Cruz now, still with a tone of being unjustly hounded. "I stayed out of school to keep away from him because I didn't want to run. I didn't like it."
"If you were my son," de Oliveira said, finally cornering him, "I'd spank you. Now come on. This may not seem important to you, but it is to me. Do it for me."
Of course, we know that's exactly what he did. De Oliveira got Joaquim some spikes and trained him for two weeks on Piano Piloto, the big city track, and on dirt roads in Proflora, the eucalyptus forest park.
"He was a 14-year-old in against 18-year-olds," recalls de Oliveira. "They went out fast. He went with them. The winner ran 3:59. Joaquim died in the last lap. He was third in 4:02.3. Afterward he was vomiting and didn't want to think about track ever again."
"In basketball I had fun," says Cruz, "and I had teammates getting tired with me. Running was boring and lonely. So I decided to stop running. I told Luiz in front of my mother and father. He seemed to accept it."
The Cruz family had misgivings about Joaquim throwing himself into sports at all. "At first, I was too young to work, to bring money to the house," he says. "But when I was older, my parents complained because it took them a month of working to buy me a pair of shoes. And sometimes—the shoes were so cheap—I'd wear a pair out in a month."
He wasn't bringing anything into the house except dreams, and it was natural that parents whose lives had been spent in killing labor with little reward would object to his aspiring to more, or even aspiring to aspire.
De Oliveira got Joaquim a job teaching basketball to children. "One night after a game," Cruz recalls, "he gave me a ride home, then stopped the car and made a speech. He knew what I cared about most. He said that he had told people in the U.S. about a kid in Brazil that they'd hear about someday. I could be that kid if I'd try, but it was going to have to be in track. He said, 'Just give it one month. If you don't like it, we'll forget about it after that.' I said. 'O.K. One month.' "
A friend of de Oliveira's who ran a little market came up with a box of vegetables every week. De Oliveira passed them on to Cruz's mother to supplement the family's meals. And a month later Joaquim, at 15, ran 800 meters in 1:54 and 400 meters in 48.7. He was a prodigy.