Athletes with dentures


Think about your grandmother. Yes, that old woman that wakes up in the morning, does the shopping in the market, prepares dinner and spends all the afternoon watching TV. And now imagine her wearing an athletics uniform and trainers and running 200 metres or taking part in a high or long jump competition. Weird, isn’t it?

Images like that were usual in the last European Veterans Athletics Championships, held in San Sebastian during last week, with athletes between 35 and 96 years old coming from all around Europe. I had the opportunity to work as a referee and I would like to share some experiences and situations that where absolutely fascinating.

The simple fact of be still living at the age of 95 is an extraordinary feat. But it is far more extraordinary to practise sport and have the nerve to travel from Finland, Belgium or Russia to compete against other athletes and try, at those ages, to win the title of European Champion. That is the case of Emiel Pauwels (96) and Ilmari Koppinen (95) the only two athletes over 95 that competed in San Sebastian and that faced each other in the finals of 60 and 200 metres. Pauwels won both races, but there is not room for doubt that both runners deserve to be considered as great champions. The Belgian also got the silver medal in the 400m, an event where he was the only over 95 years athlete and competed in the over 90 category.

Here is the video of the 60 metres final in the category of M95, with Pauwels winning by a tiny advantage of 0,12 seconds:

It was also a striking imagine to watch women over 80 running in speed races and after reaching the finish line, when the organization staff boys guide them back to the changing zone, see how their hands slide towards the lads bottom. The spectators could not stop laughing at that surprising view.

But which we  can consider  “the image” of the championships spread from one phone of the staff members to the others. An old man let his false teeth in the box where athletes  put their belongings just before they go to the start line and forgot them there when he finished and picked-up his clothes and his sport bag. The false teeth remained there until a staff member found them when the box was going to be used by another athlete. I suppose that someone brought the teeth to the lost properties room where the owner got them back. 

A competition like this, with athletes coming from so different cultures and countries, let us many curious stories. A Russian man, after taking his number and official equipment from the competition headquarters, asked to a staff member where he could catch the bus to Paris, as he had booked a room in the capital city of France, more than 800 kilometres away from San Sebastian. It seems that for Russians 800 kilometres is not a wide distance for travelling. Another athlete, from Hungary, arrived to San Sebastian with 30€ in his wallet and thought it would be enough for spending the whole week in the city. He could not imagine that in San Sebastian you can barely have 2 meals or a very humble one night lodging with that quantity.


The competition is some kind of mix between a “circus” with very old people doing things that you hardly could imagine they were be able to do and an athletics competition with very prepared and conscientiously trained athletes that are too old to compete against the best of the world, but find in the veterans category a motivation to lengthen their sport career.

With more than 3.000 athletes participating, this kind of competition mixes sport, tourism, self-improvement and praise to the old people skills. Although the society makes them seem useless and they are thought to spend the rest of their live prostrated, sitting in their couch watching TV, they still have the courage and vitality for travelling to a foreign country, dress with their nation’s official uniform and run, jump or throw to try to win a medal. Absolutely inspiriting and exemplary for all of us.


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.