SPORTS

Spain pools resources for London

With 99 days to go until the Olympics, the final places are still being disputed

Mireia Belmonte won three gold medals and a silver at the 2010 FINA Short Course World Championships in Dubai.
Mireia Belmonte won three gold medals and a silver at the 2010 FINA Short Course World Championships in Dubai. MOHAMED MESSARA / EFE

Six fencers, among them a medal winner in Beijing, José Luis Abajo, “Pirri,” are competing this weekend in Bratislava for their ticket to the 2012 Olympics. The female water polo team beat Italy on Monday on its own journey to London. The synchronized swimming team, double silver medalist in 2008, meanwhile, will be competing in the English capital from Wednesday for its own place in the 2012 Games.

With the last qualifying tournaments underway, Spain has assured the presence of 251 athletes in London, 120 men and 131 women, to which must be added 41 more who have met the minimum times in their respective events and await the definitive team list from the Spanish federation in July. The Spanish Olympic Committee calculates that the nation’s participation in London will be similar to that in Beijing. In China 286 athletes (164 men and 122 women) represented Spain and the collective returned with five golds, 10 silvers and three bronzes.

April is the month of pre-Olympic tournaments, for many aspirants the final chance to snap up the desired ticket. “It’s a very difficult competition. It’s unlike any other because instead of handing out medals, they hand out passports,” says Pirri of the tournament this weekend. At 33 years of age and with two children, this is not a new experience for the bronze medalist. He knows that four years of training and a single dream are on the line in a few hours of competition, with the great objective of repeating his experience in Beijing, where he went from a hard-working and anonymous sportsman to one giving interviews until the small hours.

The latest to qualify for London is He Zhiwen, Juanito, who was the first Spaniard to win an Olympic table tennis match and will be competing again at the age of 50. Before him were the swimmers, headed by great hope Mireia Belmonte; the gymnasts — the whole men’s team, the rhythmic team and Carolina Rodríguez; six canoeists; and the sailors Iker Martínez and Xabi Fernández, silver medalists in Beijing, who will compete in the 49er category. Martínez and Fernández are also expected to be offered the chance to carry the Spanish flag in the opening ceremony, as the most-decorated Olympians in the team behind David Cal, the sprint canoeist. The Spanish Olympic Federation altered its regulations recently so that the same athlete would not be able to carry the flag at two consecutive games.

The sailors have indicated they will be happy to perform the role, although they are not obliged to: in 2008, Cal was eventually handed the flag after Joan Llaneras and Gervasio Deferr both declined for scheduling reasons.

By teams, those who have already booked their place include the men’s basketball (silver medalist in Beijing), handball (bronze), water polo, soccer and hockey squads and still in the pre-tournament mix are the women’s handball, water polo and volleyball teams.

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