Gators at Olympics: Enzo Martinez-Scarpe captains Uruguay into 50-meter freestyle

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun

Competing in an Olympic Games always carries special weight for the athletes representing their home countries.

For some, though, it means more than for others.

Enzo Martinez-Scarpe falls into the “some” category.

The former Gators swimmer, who graduated in 2018, hails from Uruguay, a small nation in South America sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina with a population of just 3.5 million.

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Its delegation at this summer’s games tops out at 11 athletes, much smaller than many other countries. For example, the U.S. is sending 613 athletes across the pacific.

Martinez-Scarpe will swim in Tokyo in the 50-meter freestyle as a captain of the Uruguayan Swim team and with the hopes and dreams of his country on his back.

He already etched his place in Uruguayan swim history in March at the South American Championships when he qualified for the games and set a national record for 50m freestyle (22.44).

Martinez-Scarpe became the first Uruguayan to medal at the South American Championships in more than 30 years.

The moment felt especially sweeter for him given all the obstacles he swam through throughout his life.

Doctors diagnosed Martinez-Scarpe with asthma at six months old. They recommended he start swimming. At seven, he began competing in summer camps.

“I started training every day when I was nine, and competing for my swim club at home,” he said. “Eventually, I started looking for colleges in the U.S.”

After looking at schools like Auburn and Virginia, the All-American arrived in Gainesville in 2013 without an athletic scholarship.

“UF was the best school for me since it was the closest to home,” he said. “I was not prepared before coming to UF, so I had to walk-on and redshirt my freshman year.”

He struggled his first two seasons behind legends like Caeleb Dressel.

After his redshirt sophomore season, Martinez-Scarpe came close to receiving a chance to make the 2016 Uruguayan Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro.

He attributed the Olympic disappointment to the endeavors he faced at Florida.

“It was really tough my freshman and sophomore year because I was coming from a different culture and language and really missed my family and the food,” Martinez-Scarpe said.

He finally broke through his junior year,

He ranked second in the 200 free relays at NCAA Championships and was named First Team All-SEC. He reached a higher level in 2018 when he finished in the top eight at the SEC Championships in the 50 free.

His biggest victory came in the NCAA Championships, when he teamed up with Dressel, Jan Switkowski and Mark Szarenek to win the 200-free relay for the first time in UF history.

Martinez-Scarpe has remained close with Dressel and will compete against him in the 50m free.

“He’s a great person and friend,” he said about Dressel. “He helped me a lot, and we came in at the same time, so I saw him grow in Gainesville.”

Martinez-Scarpe credits UF for where he resides now in the swim world and proclaimed if it wasn’t for UF, he wouldn’t have reached swimming’s highest competition.

Some new Olympic athletes often aren’t ready for the moment, but Martinez-Scarpe said his experience at UF and in other major international events braced him for the occasion.

“Every practice I have I am training against Caeleb Dressel and Ryan Lochte,” he said. “Many people view the Olympics as a huge event, and I don’t view it like that. I train with the best and feel like I am one of them.”

Experts don’t expect Martinez-Scarpe to win a medal, but that doesn’t bother him. He’s content living out his childhood dream.

“I remember watching my first Olympics in 2004,” he said. “Since then, I always wanted to be an Olympian, and now, I am achieving my life dream.”

The men’s 50 free preliminary heats kicks off July 30, and the final commences Aug. 1 from the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.