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MBA student overcomes hurdles to return to Olympics

Gonzalo Barroilhet

Faster than most mortal men, able to leap great heights in a single bound and sporting a powerful grade point average, MBA student and Olympic decathlete Gonzalo Barroilhet may seem to have superhero skills. But those who know him best say his success can be traced to this simple truth: He never gives up.

“He’s tenacious to say the least,” said Dennis Nobles, his track and field coach. Barroilhet returned to the Olympic Games this summer in London to represent his native country of Chile.

For Barroilhet, it was the culmination of a college athletic career filled with struggles as well as accomplishments. He began his Florida State University track career as a “freshman sensation,” Nobles said, helping FSU win an NCAA championship in 2008 with his third-place decathlon finish and taking home the NCAA Indoor heptathlon title.

But the next three years, Barroilhet suffered constant setbacks with two shoulder surgeries. Each time, he pushed forward, enduring the physical therapy it takes to contend again.

“I never saw him complain or get down,” Nobles said. “It’s his attitude that helps him succeed. He always has a positive attitude about whatever he’s doing. He finds a way to make it interesting, make it fun. He loves to compete.”

Barroilhet rallied for his final year of eligibility, setting an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship record with 8,065 points. When it comes to decathlons, 8,000 points or higher marks true greatness.

“His score solidified his standing as an Olympic-level athlete,” Nobles said. He also earned first-team All-American honors after placing fourth in the decathlon at the recent NCAA Championships, just four points out of second place. He also clocked new personal records in the 400- and 1500-meter events.

Barroilhet, dubbed “Gonzo” by those who know him best, has taken that same driven approach in the classroom at the FSU College of Business.

“He was constantly pushing himself,” said Dr. Doug Stevens, who taught Barroilhet in two graduate-level accounting classes. “One would think he’d take easy classes with his hectic schedule. Not Gonzo – he was always pushing himself, always taking the hardest classes to learn and expand his knowledge.”

Nobles said Barroilhet, who is nominated for ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, balances school and sport better than most and excels at both.

“The guy’s getting a master’s degree in a second language,” he said. “To me that’s very, very impressive.”

Adrian Young, a recent MBA graduate, worked on several team projects with Barroilhet. Although Young jokes that Barroilhet’s Olympian status gave him a great line when trying to impress women, he said his friend is serious about his schoolwork.

“Gonzo was somewhat of a perfectionist, demanding things be improved upon or executed better,” Young said. “This was likely his competitiveness showing, something Gonzo has a hard time turning off.”

Barroilhet admits his drive’s never in neutral.

 “I don’t have much free time. I hate losing time,” he said. “If I can squeeze in 10 minutes here, I’ll get ahead, get something to eat. I’m never static.”

Barroilhet first tried to complete his university degree in Chile but decided there had to be a better way to pursue education and his track passion than his daily long commutes between school and practice. So with his family’s support, he researched U.S. schools and gave FSU a call. He then paid his own way to Tallahassee to demonstrate his skills. Nobles said FSU was thrilled to secure his talent.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Barroilhet decided to pursue an MBA. He said he likes the camaraderie found in graduate school, where students are with the same cohort of people for one intensive year of courses. 

“He was constantly balancing his superior athletic performance with his desire to perform well in the classroom,” Stevens said. “He always comes with his ‘A’ game. He’s always distinguishing himself in some way. Athletes know that. You need an edge, whatever it takes. He brings that attitude into the classroom. He’s always going to be a top performer.  I never caught him unprepared for class.”

Barroilhet hoped all his preparation outside of class would pay off in the Olympic Games, which began July 27. He secured a win in the decathlon pole vault and finished overall in 13th place this time. His father and five brothers and sisters were there to cheer him on to victory.

“He’s been there before,” Nobles said. “The first time you go, you’re kind of wide-eyed and in awe of everything. Your idol’s sitting next to you eating lunch. Michael Phelps is walking through the cafeteria. It’s a bit overwhelming.”

Barroilhet agrees that he appreciates the opportunity more this second time around.

“Going to the Olympic Games is every athlete’s dream,” Barroilhet said. “When I got the second surgery, the Olympics looked very far away. But I never gave up."

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