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By Rebecca Marcinko
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- After being delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics featured a glimmer of blue and white. Fifteen Penn State alumni competed, but senior Gabe Castaño was the only current Penn State student in the Games.
Castaño, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, was on the Mexican men’s swimming team. The labor and human resources major fell in love with Penn State and found it was the best option for him to continue swimming.
“The liberal arts degree (allows) me to expand my knowledge … I like the business side of things, but I also wanted to have the freedom to do more things outside of school,” he said. “(Liberal arts) gave me that freedom to travel a lot and do all these meets everywhere and go to Mexico and out of the country.”
Having only started swimming in high school, the Olympics were something Castaño only “dreamt of,” but Penn State’s coaches and facilities helped transform this dream into a reality this summer.
Castaño’s motivation to improve is what has carried him to greatness. In high school, he began winning in the 50-meter freestyle — his event ever since. Breaking Mexico’s national world record in 2019 and being extremely close to the Olympic time made him realize the Games were a “very real possibility” for the future.
And when he found out he made the Mexican team, Castaño described the feeling as “immediate relief.” He celebrated with his friends, family and teammates, but then it was “back to work” to prepare for the Games.
Castaño ended up finishing 30th in the preliminaries with a time of 22.32 in the 50-meter freestyle.
Competing in the Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic provided a “skewed” experience, but Castaño was still able to immerse himself in Japanese culture during the Games.
“My favorite part was just meeting people and getting to know a lot of Olympians that have a lot more experience than I do,” he said. “And on top of that, the Japanese food was great … I fell in love with Japan, I definitely want to go back at some point.”
Even though the Tokyo Olympics just ended a few weeks ago, Castaño is already thinking about the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“Even right now, hitting the highest level at the Olympics, I'm not satisfied with where I was,” Castaño said. “I'm still looking forward to three years from now in Paris.”
Castaño plans to keep a clear focus on swimming for the next three years — he wants to enjoy being young and “at the top of the sport.” However, his long-term plans consist of utilizing his liberal arts degree to start small businesses across Mexico and the United States, and he already has “many ideas.”
“At this point, I'm just kind of like, I don't have a limit. So, why not just go for it?”
August 31, 2021