Sirens under dictatorship

Some weeks ago the Spanish world of sport was surprised about a decision difficult to understand. The trainer of the Spanish synchronized swimming, Anna Tarrés, wouldn’t continue leading the team no more. The reason that the Spanish Swimming federation claimed was that, after more than 14 years, it was time to “create new synergies”. Now one could understand the decision. Tarrés become the Spanish team one of the best of the world, although there was no tradition in Spain in this sport and swimming is the main weak point of the Spanish Olympic team.

Under Tarrés mandate, the Spanish team got 4 Olympic medals, 25 world championship medals and 25 European medals. Years ago it could seem definitively outside scope in a Sport dominated by great potencies as China, Russia, Ukraine or Japan.

The same day that de notice was known, Paola Tirados, former Spanish swimmer in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, stated that she couldn’t say anything good about Tarrés and although the team got incredible good results, the human conditions of the training weren’t the best at all. “I suffered a lot”, said about her life time under Tarrés leadership. Some Catalonian media complained about it: Tarrés is Catalonian and in the public television, TV-3, it was said that her dismissal was due to the political confrontation between Spain and Catalonia.

Even though the most media charged against the Spanish federation for taking that decision the society suspected that it could be something dark behind the shinning medals and the success of the ones known as the “Spanish sirens”.

And the suspicion was true. Yesterday 15 former swimmers that had been working with Tarrés published a letter charging against Tarrés working methods and denouncing her dictatorship of fear. Here is one of the most significant part of the letter:

“Today we decided to come together to tell our story, to give voice to all those things that until now have been hidden under the medals. We tried to denounce  bad practices to sports institutions years ago but they ignored us”.

“A good trainer must lead a team getting the respect of the team, but Tarrés chose the easy way: use the fear. She was a manipulative woman and use the exhaustion to become as a just a puppet under her command. She was just a dictator and used, threats,false promises, constraints, humiliation, harassment and manipulation”.

They also bring to light personal episodes of Tarrés calling “bitch” to a 14 years all teen, not letting to a swimmer get out of the pool to vomit, stealing Paola Tirados a medal becaouse she didn’t “deserve it” or calling “fat” to a 57kg weight girl that after that became bulimic. In brief, Anna Tarrés covered with the shinning medals an empire of fear and manipulation, played with the dreams of many young athlets by using methods that souldn’t be allowed in the world of sport. Once again, the sport show us a shadow that we are to blind to see. In fact, we usually only see success.

Here is the the full letter from the former swimmers.


Some curiosities about the Stade de Suisse


Many times we watch a football stadium only the place where the game happens. Sometimes a stadium surprises you with some skills that cannot be watched with a simple look. For example, it’s nice to discover some curiosities about the Stade de Suisse, the stadium of Young Boys in Berna (Switzerland). It was built on the grounds of the former Wankdorf Stadium and opened on july 2005.

It has a  capacity of 32,000 spectators and all the seats are covered. It is the second biggest stadium in Switzerland and it was one of the venues in the 2008 Eurocup. Its surface is an artificial turf and it cost 350 million suisse franc. Just below the playing field is one of the largest shopping centers in Switzerland and a parking  with over 700 places. The stadium also includes schools, homes, a fitness center, several gyms and some restaurants.

At first sight it may seem a common stadium. But it is not:

Curiosity 1: Ecological stadium

On top of the stadium it’s placed the world largest stadium-integrated photovoltaic installation. It consists of approximately 8,000 Solar modules covering an area of 12,000 m2. In one year it can provide enough electrical energy for approximately 325 average households per year, 1,134,045 kWh in total and a Co2 saving of about 567 tons/year. The electricity from the photovoltaic installation powers the stadium and the neiborghood around the area.

Curiosity 2: The hot seat

In the stadium there is a single red seat, all the others are both black or yellow. It is the first seat installed in te stadium, in 20th january of 2005. There are not tickets available for that seat and it is used to be reserved for a famous visitors or Young Boys former players. The suisse goalkeeper Walter Eich unveiled it.

Curiosity 3: Icy record 

The stadium is not only used as a football ground. Many live shows and spectacles  have taken place there (Bon Jovi, Ac/Dc, Bruce Springsting or Red Hot Chili Peppers have played there). The Stade de Suisse has the record on attendance to a Ice Hockey match in Europe. The local teams, SC Bern and SC Langnau choose the stadium to play their hundreth match. It was on January 14, 2007,  when they filled the Stade de Suisse with 30,076 fans and the tickets were sold out out within 53 hours of tickets going on sale.

The come back of Eba Ferreira

Football is a short-memory sport. You are in the summit one day and in the following no one reminds you. Even more if you are female. That could have happen to many people in the Basque Country with Eba Ferreira, the most important Basque football player of the history, leader of that women’s Athletic Club of Bilbao that won 4 Spanish Super-Leagues, 3 of them in a Row. Since she left the red and white club, she disappeared from the slightly lights that media put on women’s sport.

But, suddenly, Eva is again on TV. She had been selected to take part in “El Conquistador del Aconcagua”, and adventure reality-show, the most successful program of the Basque Television, ETB. Not in such a good shape that she had when she played and with a short haircut, but with the same shiners that give her a particular look, she appeared on TV ready for reaching the summit of the Aconcagua mountain, almost 7.000 metres high.

She is now 39 years old and works cleaning a sports center. She left the Athletic two years ago, after playing for 8 seasons, 152 games and scoring 55 goals. She took part in the resurfaced women’s Athletic that came back to the elite of Spanish football league and got 3 leagues in a row. Furthermore, that women’s team achieve any football players dream (even women or men): to play in the San Mamés stadium, known as the “Cathedral” of the football, full of supporters. In that scenario, they get their first Superleague. Playing as a forward she lead the team to get three titles in a row, to play UEFA women’s Cup and to become the women’s football more visible in the mass communication media and the Basque society.

In 2004, she had a severe knee injury that kept her away from football fields for 16 mounths. But after recovering, she was able to continue with her life rutine. Her days started waking up at 4.30 for work and finished at 9pm in Lezama, Athletic Club’s training camps. She started playing football in her neighborhood, when she was known as “the boy”. Her mother always said than as she grew up, teams from her home town, Santurtzi, called her when they needed any other player. That way started the story of Eba, the woman that socer 55 goals and some of them in the Cathedral of the football.

In her new adventure Eva is trying to reach the summit of Aconcagua. She would have to fight and pass many proofs to have the opportunity of going up the almost 7000 metres high mountain. If she can get a better shape and overcome difficulties as cold, altitude and the rivals strength, take for sure that the ex-lioness has a taught mentality and capacity of self-improvement to be successful in her aim.

The myth of the Tourmalet

Cycling is, almost for the one who is writing, one of the most fascinating sports. Over the years, cycling has created sanctuaries all over Europe, places where the suffering of the riders has created myths of overcoming and sporting duels. Climbs like Tourmalet, with uncountable races passing on it is, without doubt, almost a mystical site fore cycling lovers.

Since it was discovered, something made this climb special. Octave Lapize, first rider in history to pinnacle the Tourmalet, labelled as “murderers” the organizers of that edition 1910 of the Grande Boucle. Being concerned of the strength that you need to climb such a monster mountain, better not to imagine what could be to do it riding a hunder years-old bike.

The Tourmalet is the most passed “Col”  in the history of the Tour, it’s summit has seen riders passing through 73 times and it has become the greatest symbol of the French race.

I would like to analyze the Tourmalet itself, the meaning of climbing that hell mountain, that makes cycling fans all over the world to climb it imitating their idols

As many say, the Tourmalet is not the hardest, the longest, neither the highest mountain. But in their slopes its written the story of the Tour de France, the best cycling race of the world and, why not to say, one of the greatest sport event.

The last great memory that Tourmalet has give as, was the impressive battle between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck in 2010, with the Luxembourger attacking with more than10 kilometres to go and the Spaniard trying not to loose his rhythm until the top. One of the most remembered face-to-face battle, into the foggy landscape of the Pyrenees, in the last years.

Tourmalet has two sides, quite different one from the other:

The Tourmalet by Saint Marie de Campan

Is the most known slope, because you pass the ski resort of La Mongie, the place where  Lance Armstrong won a stage in 2002. Although it is the most famous side, personally I think it is not the prettiest, nor the hardest. The climb begins with a flats between the towns of Saint Marie de Campan and Campan (where really starts the climb). The first five kilometers are quite affordable, with around 4% average slopes, into the CampanValley, a good warm-up before the hardest part of the climb starts. With 12 kilometers to go, the slopes became more and more steep. You cross some typical Pyrenean tunnels and a wooded area that protects you from the heat sun. 8% average and until the end there is not even a break.

Approaching at the Le Mongie, vegetation disappears and the background you begin  to glimpse a core of buildings surrounded by spectacular meadows with creeks. It seems that this area should be the top, but there are 4 kilometers more of ascent. An interminable climb. Arriving to Le Mongie, the road takes you inside the tunnels and you must to go over ramps of up to 12%, when you probably have been climbing for more than an hour. A torture. Although, you can get more encouraged reading the names of the cyclists, written on the walls of the tunnels, which for years have made history in the Tour. Names of those riders that may pass a lot of years ago.

Once at the ski station, crossing Le Mongie, its seems impossible to climb more, you cant imagine there is a road to rise even higher. But when you have passed the ski station, above a rock wall you see signs of civilization and a tiny parking. Yes, that’s the top of the Tourmalet. Still four wild kilometres to the top, restless and with no slope below 8%. In the final kilometers, there is no large meadows of grass and but rocks on both sides of the road, a path surrounded by mountains that create an atmosphere of epic. With one kilometre to go, the top still seems too high to reach it in only 1.000 metres. You see the answer in a poster on the right of the road: one kilometre to go, 10% average. Finally, you reach to the summit, after sprinting, if you have enough power, on the final curve to the left. And there it is, with the statue of Jacques Goddet that welcomes to the heaven of the cycling lovers.

The Tourmalet by Luz Saint Sauveur

Climbing the Tourmalet by this slope is spectacular from the start to the finish. There may not be so many “distractions” as in the other side, but the views are more spectacular if its possible.

The ascent starts in the village of Luz Saint Sauveur, in the heart of the Pyrenees, a fairly large city, with more than a thousand inhabitants. In the town itself, where you take the road to the Col du Tourmalet, you will face a 200 meters-long and 10% first ramp. A little joke to remind you what is going to come next.

After coming out of the town, the Tourmalet begins soft but harder than the Campan’s slope. The average of the ramps always  around 6-7% in the first 3 kilometers. After these, the ascent becomes more tough. To Bareges town, the road moves into an endless valley ascent to Superbareges ski station. On leaving this village we found a ramp of 13%, which really hurts in your legs and, after a full kilometre up to 9%, we move through a wooded area.

Arriving to the Superbareges station, you are awarded with a 300 metres long flat, to breath and rest before starting the “real” climb up to Tourmalet. From there until the top, there is no slope below 8%. The vegetation disappears altogether and you see a gray line, the road, going up throw a huge green wall. You will be riding at this  scenario until the meadows disappear and you go into a grey landscape, full of rocks and without vegetation.

That point is about 2 kilometres to go, where only rocks and stones will go with you forward to the top. When you reach the last kilometre poster and you see where is the end of the ascent you realize that the hardest is to come. You see the summit and it seems impossible to climb up as high in only 1000 metres. The entire kilometre is up to 10%. Suddenly, you run into a 180 degrees curve that will be really wild, inhuman, almost vertical due to your lack of power. The last 100 meters you close your eyes, keep pedalling and yousuffer for a few seconds more. After the home stretch,  you open your eyes and you are in front of the poster: Col du Tourmalet, altitude 2115 m. Objective accomplished, you have reached the top of the Tourmalet. Once there, you can take the pleasure to take a look below and see the road you have been climbing, the same road where the best cyclist wrote with golden letters some of the more important stories of cycling.

Teenage talent at the Paralympics

Ellie Simmonds, right, of Britain with her gold medal and Victoria Arlen of the United States with her silver medal for the women's 400-meter freestyl

Arlen and Simmons.

It was, without doubt, one of the best duels in the London Paralympic Games. Two teenage swimmers, both born in 1994, fighting for the glory in the AquaticsCenter at the S6 classification. They faced each other 3 times during the Games, in the 50, 100 and 400 metres freestyle. Arlen won the 100m event, Simmons the 400m and none of them could win in the 50m , the silver went to Arlen and the bronze to Simmonds. (link to the 400m event, where Simmonds won the golden medal)

The two teenagers won 8 medals, 4 each other. But  what I would like to talk about is the fight of each one against their disabilities to end up in a Paralympic final trying to get a medal.

Ellie Simmonds is quite more famous than Arlen, maybe one of the most famous paralympic athletes in the United Kingdom. She was born with achondroplasia, dwarfism. In Beijing, when she was 13, she astonished the sport fans getting 2 gold medals. She was the younger athlete of the whole British Paralympic team. After her success in China, she was awarded with the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year  and in 2009 she became the youngest person to receive the honor of becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2009. Only 1.23 metres and 45kg teenager, enough to wonder with her power in a swimming pool. For not talking about her sympathy and her charisma when she is off the pool, a cheerful girl, always smiling, an example of overcoming for every disabled person.

While Simmonds was receiving prizes, in  2009, Victoria Arlen woke up from a two-years long nightmare. The story was quite different for her. When Simmonds was already fighting against other swimmers to win championships, Arlen still fighted against herself to have a chance of keep on living and, after she woke up, learning again how to speak and walk.  She was diagnosed with Transverse myelitis, a disease that left her in coma for nearly two years. In December 2009, she overcame the vegetative state and started her first challenge: to re-learn thinking, talking, eating and moving her upper body. Once she had finished her fight against herself, she was ready to start again doing sport, even if she was surprised when they told her that disabled people also could do sport. “Rock your disability” became her motto.

She started swimming and playing sled hockey, and began training hard to be at London 2012, doing 4 hours trains 6 days a week. In June she got the ticket for London, taking the S6 400m Freestyle world record in at the American Paralympic trials. That record belonged to Ellie Simmonds. Maybe, until then the Briton had never heard Arlens name. Breaking her record meant that she would be a hard enemy in the fight for the paralympic medals. And it was. Both swimmers delighted the fans with their performance in London. They always showed respect for the rival and acted in an honest way. Both of them are only 17 years old. And, without doubt, they are going to bring us interesting duels in the future paralympic events.