By David Lugg
Luís Costa has always been a busy man. He is an inspector with the Polícia Judiciária, the national criminal investigation agency that specialises in anything from homicides to terrorism. However, his life changed in 2003 when he suffered a serious motorcycle accident that resulted in the amputation of his right leg. Determined to live a normal life, Luís continued his career within the police force but soon found that he needed something more to satisfy his active lifestyle.
In 2013, he dedicated himself to the sport of para-cycling and is now a multiple national champion and has competed at World Cups and two Paralympic Games. Luis speaks to David Lugg about his experience at Tokyo 2020 and his need for sponsorship if he is to compete at Paris 2024.
Who or what inspired you to take up para-cycling?
I discovered para-cycling around the time of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. I was influenced by the media attention given to the participation of former Formula 1 driver Alessandro Zanardi. It sparked my curiosity for the sport and after only a few months I was competing in a World Cup against him, because Alex is in my class.
You are an inspector for the Polícia Judiciária in Portimão. How do you find time to train for para-cycling events?
I have to combine the training schedule with my professional tasks. But, since March 2015, I have achieved the status of a high performance athlete which entitles me to flexible working hours according to my training needs. I train six days a week and rest for one.
Is Portimão a good place to train?
Portimão and the neighbouring concelhos are an excellent area for training. The climate is perfect for cycling most of the year. Training is varied because it has flat roads, but only a few kilometres away we have mountain roads.
You recently competed at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. How was the experience?
The Tokyo Paralympic Games were special because of the conditions we all know about. Holding the Games in the middle of a pandemic took courage on the part of the organisers and earned the respect of the athletes. The Japanese were impeccable; I don’t think many countries had the capacity to do it like they did. But even without the public, it was an experience that no athlete will be able to forget.
How did it compare to Rio 2016?
Of course for us athletes it was different to the atmosphere we experienced at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016. The encouragement of the public is always important for athletes. But the lack of public and impossibility to move freely to get to know the country better was compensated with the welcoming capacity of the volunteers who accompanied us all the time.
Portugal won a combined total of six medals at the Olympics and Paralympics. This was an improvement on five medals from Rio 2016, but do you feel that enough is being done to promote ‘sport for all’ in this country?
The answer to that question is a big no. Definitely not! In fact, I think it is getting worse. The basis of the process, which is school sport, has been neglected. The subject of physical education has lost weight in the curricular evaluation over the last few years. How can you have great athletes in the future if the students don’t feel the importance of having a good grade in physical education? And there is also the ever-decreasing support to small clubs and sports federations. The recent state budget provided only 43 million euros for sport, less than in 2019 – a tiny slice of the cake. So we’re not going there … there is a lot more to say on the subject, but it isn’t going to fit in this interview.
At forty-eight years old, you are an ambassador against ageism. What is your secret?
There is no secret. I think it is all a matter of willpower – believing that age is a mere detail. Of course, the ageing of the body inevitably diminishes some areas of physical capacity and, at forty-eight, having to fight opponents in their twenties may not be the fairest from a sporting point of view, but I feel able to fight them on equal terms and that is what is important.
The Paralympics will be in Paris in 2024. Is this your next big goal?
The Paris 2024 Paralympic Games are obviously my next big goal and I will do everything I can to be there. If I make it, it will be my third consecutive Games – and at fifty-one years of age! I know it won’t be easy and my biggest obstacle will not be my age, but the usual lack of sponsorship. I do not currently belong to any club and my sponsors are small businesses who have the courage to help me with the little they can. This year, for example, if it wasn’t for the support of the municipality of Portimão, I would probably consider giving up competing. All it would take is one big sponsor and everything would be much easier. But I have to fight with the weapons I have because Paris is within reach and I want to be there!