The Spanish Michael Phelps

Spain, hometown of many of the greatest athletes of the world. Birthplace of Gasol, Nadal, Fernando Alonso or Andrés Iniesta. But among of them there is one athlete that shines more than anyone. And she shines because of the Olympic medals that she has, many as Michael Phelps.  

She is Teresa Perales, the Paralympic swimmer who reached the epic mark of 22 medals in London 2012. The Spanish flag-bearer in the openning ceremony. Surely the greatest Spanish athlete if we take into account her story of overcoming, that has always got what she wanted to, and not only in the world of sport. Unfortunately, she was born in a country that you are hardly taken into account if you are a woman athlete and, ever more, if you are disabled.

She competed in the S5 category, but in breaststroke, where she does in S4. She can’t move her legs. She moves in a wheelchair since she was 19.

There are two types of disabled people. The ones who say “I can’t” and the other who say “Why I couldn’t?” Without a doubt, Perales belongs to the second type. The first time she went into a swimming pool she had to use a life jacket. After that, she would realize that under the water her disability wouldn’t be a limit any more.

She started competing in international challenges in 1998 and two years after she won the first four medals in Sidney. The Paralympic dream started there but is still not over: with 22 medals she is looking for Rio 2016, where she hopes to increase her mark with more medals than the myth Michael Phelps.

During this years she astonished her family and friends by getting married standing, using a machine that “it hurt” but allowed her to forget the wheelchair during the ceremony. She also had a child, “Nano”, that enjoyed last summer watching his mother swimming and winning 6 medals in the AquaticsCenter. He appears in the video below:

Having a child didn’t let her prepare the Games as she would like and in London her shape wasn’t so god as in Beijing. She started getting medals but the gold seemed to escape from her. But, finally, she got it. It was in her last performance in London, the 100m freestyle. There she finally got her British Gold and matched Phelps with 22 medals. She reached that final absolutely exhausted because of the previous 5 finals, but she couldn’t leave London without Gold and she did it.

Perales taught as what any people need to learn in life: to ask to ones head everyday “why I couldn’t?” Doesn’t mind what the issue is, if it’s overcoming psychical problems, having a child despite of being disabled or getting medals and matching Michael Phelps.

She hasn’t the recognition that the other Spanish athletes that I named in the beginning have, but she has a lot to teach them about overcoming. She is one of the greatest Spanish Athletes of the story and being disabled or not hasn’t nothing to do with this. Her ability to self-improve and overcome adbersity, and her capacity to win medals since Sydney 2000 to London 2012 let us know how she is. And looking for the future, as she uses to say, “Perales is not over”


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.

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.