LONDON (AP) — If Felix Sanchez had lived in the Dominican Republic, he may have become a speedy outfielder in Major League Baseball.
But fate sent him on another path, far from the Caribbean country. Sanchez, who grew up in the United States, won an Olympic gold medal for Dominican Republic in the 400-meter hurdles at the London Games just days short of his 35th birthday.
On Thursday, he was a member of the Dominican 4x400-meter relay team that was disqualified. But that hasn't tarnished the Olympic success of 11 Dominican athletes at the London Games. In addition to Sanchez's gold, Luguelin Santos won a silver medal in the 400.
Although both of the medal winners competed for the Dominican Republic, their development as athletes was forged outside the country.
The success of Sanchez, born in New York to Dominican parents, is down to his development in the United States. And seven other Dominicans at the London Games, including Santos, live on the neighboring island of Puerto Rico. They have scholarships to study and train at universities there.
It's not easy to develop in athletics in a country that is crazy about baseball.
"Luguelin (Santos) was a boy. We trained every day dreaming that one day we were going to get some opportunity," said 200-meter runner Carlos Jorge, a friend of Santos. The friends grew up training on a baseball field because of a lack of facilities in his hometown of Bayaguana.
"Obviously, the conditions for (training) of this sport are not the same that baseball has, for example, but Sanchez's successes have motivated many of us," he added.
Their coach, Jose Rubio, believes the Dominican Republic has the talent to compete with countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and the Bahamas — not only in athletics, but in other sports.
"There's been an effort to recruit those talents and little by little, they have been developing and we are already seeing the results of the work being done in Dominican athletics," he said.
It's not always easy. For a long time, the federation has tried to recruit and train athletes with the help of the best foreign coaches.
"Coaches of a certain quality have been necessary," federation president Gerardo Suero said. "We have the same level of other countries, but we need coaches with dedication and knowledge."
Athletics doesn't get anywhere close to the level of money one can earn in U.S. Major League baseball, whose teams have academies in the Dominican Republic and spend millions to recruit young talent.
Dominican Sports Minister Felipe Payano said the government is making a big effort to promote athletics. Santos and the other athletes who live in Puerto Rico have a scholarship from Interamericana University, but also get a monthly stipend and other assistance from the government for their families in the Dominican Republic. It includes medical insurance and in some cases housing.
For example, Sanchez's gold will bring him more than $250,000, while Santos' silver earns him more than $150,000.
"In our country, parents want their sons to be baseball players to earn millions of dollars," Payano said. "They can't earn millions, but now track and other athletes can find incentives with this aid. And that's very important."
The progression of the Dominican Republic in the Olympics is evident. The country's Olympic debut was in 1964 and it won its first medal in 1984, a bronze for boxer Pedro Nolasco.
It took 20 years until Sanchez won the country another medal at the 2004 Athens Games, this time gold. At the 2008 Beijing Games, the Dominicans won another two medals (gold in boxing and silver in taekwondo), and now in London, they have another two in athletics.
"A gold and silver is historic for our sport and it's been marvelous for our country," Sanchez told The Associated Press. "Baseball is the sport of our country, but now we have many athletes training very hard. We have a bright future."
Juan Zamorano contributed to this report.