In the absence of the favored Paavo Nurmi, Juan Carlos Zabala took the 1932 Olympic marathon. He was not an unknown distance runner at the time, as in 1931 he won the Košice marathon and set a world record in the 30 km. That same year, he also won the 10,000 m in the South American Championships, while winning the 3,000 m and 5,000 m at the unofficial South American Championships in Uruguay. Nicknamed the “Creole Nandu” (a kind of ostrich), Zabala was hoping to medal again in the Berlin Olympics, having bettered the 20 km world record a few months prior to the Games. But Zabala placed sixth in the final of the 10,000 m, and tripped halfway through the marathon, retiring shortly afterwards. His career marathon record was inconsistent. He raced only five marathons, finishing only the 1932 Olympics and the 1931 Košice race, but he won both of those. In 1939, a film was produced chronicling the early years of Zabala’s life in the Marcos Paz orphanage: “Y mañana serán hörbares”. Sixteen years after his death in 1983, Zabala was picked as Argentina’s track and field athlete of the century.
Personal Bests: 10000 – 30:56.2 (1936); Mar – 2-31:36 (1932).