"London is a games for the women"

Carlota Castrejana, Madrid regional sports director.

Carlota Castrejana (left) with Spain basketball captain Amaya Valdemoro at a Madrid region summer basketball program.
Carlota Castrejana (left) with Spain basketball captain Amaya Valdemoro at a Madrid region summer basketball program. DIARIO AS / DIARIO AS

Carlota Castrejana, the sports chief for the Madrid regional government, has just returned from the London Olympics. "The weather was warm. I thought it would be cold, but..."

Castrejana was part of the 2007 European Indoor Championships team that brought home nine track and field medals, including her own gold in the triple jump. At the Beijing Games the following year, despite winning 18 medals, no track and field athlete ascended the podium and so far in London the national team's successes have all taken place outside the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

In office since 2009, Castrejana views promoting all sports at junior level as the key to fostering new generations of Spanish athletes, something her department is in good shape to achieve despite the ongoing economic crisis gripping the country. She also cites the need for more exposure for sportswomen in Spain, where the shadows of Nadal, Gasol and the soccer team loom large.

"Tuesday was a good day for Spanish athletes. Especially the women. London is a Games for the women [for the first time female athletes outnumber men]. I attended a conference about coaching in Piccadilly, the Global Coaches House in London during the Olympics. There are conferences every day because all the coaches from all over the world are there and they can share knowledge about coaching, management and especially female coaches. Andy Murray's mum was there; she didn't speak about her son but about the group of girls she has coming through."

You competed at four Olympic Games in two different sports. No other Spanish athlete has done that.

I didn't know that. It's a curiosity about my life, but it's a lot of hard work. I was in the Olympic basketball team at 14 or 15 years old, we trained three or four times a day and traveled a lot with the national league, the national team. When I changed to athletics I trained a lot but during the last period of my career I combined sport and my job [a sports lawyer]. I was older, I didn't need to train eight hours a day. You are specialized by then. I trained in the morning and worked in the afternoon.

What was the highlight of your career?

The Olympic Games in Barcelona 1992. I left home at 14 to achieve my dream of going to the Olympics. I remember when we went into the stadium for the opening ceremony, it was something incredible. Also, when I broke the national record in the high jump and when I won the gold medal in 2007.

You visited the Olympic village in London. How did it compare to Barcelona?

It's the same today as it was 20 years ago, the athletes change, the sports evolve, the shoes are different, the coaching is different, but the spirit is the same. It's about people fighting for their dreams. There are athletes that make a lot of money and then there are athletes that have to pay to go to the games, all together in the same place for the same dream. Everything around them might have changed but the spirit is still the same.

How did you adapt so easily to high jump after you switched from basketball?

It wasn't easy... I was 19 or 20 years old, which is old to learn to another discipline. I had very good physical attributes but I didn't have a very good technique. I had to work very hard on that. But I had a very good coach and I gave it everything I had and tried very hard. I remember that even with that [national record in 1996] mark I didn't go to the Olympics in Atlanta. I had the national record, I was the best jumper in Spain, but they chose to only take those athletes that had a good chance of getting to finals.

After high jump you switched to triple jump, racking up 15 national championships among other achievements. It seems you were destined for the event.

I think so, yes. I was better at horizontal jumps than vertical jumps. There are quite a few high jumpers that switched to triple jump. Sarka Kasparkova [bronze medalist in Atlanta], for example. She was a very good jumper, a high jumper as well. Sometimes you evolve. I started very late in a very technical discipline.

Was 2007 a high point for Spanish track and field?

In 2008 we didn't get any medals in Beijing. I think we are waiting for a new generation to come through. The technical events need time; around six to eight years to get to the top, it doesn't happen suddenly. But there are people are coming up behind us. At the Junior World Championships in Barcelona we had Ana Peleteiro in the triple jump, Didac Salas in pole vault. I think we always have people in 1,500, for example. I think the time is coming. We have good coaches and we have people behind us.

Is there enough investment in athletics?

We need to invest for performance, which is logical. I don't know if it's more about investment or whether to review the current model. Now we are in crisis it is difficult to improve the investment so maybe we need to look at changing the model.

The government's first priority is the promotion of sport. We work with the grassroots to make sport accessible for everybody, regardless of age, gender or race. We work in collaboration with the federation with the area of the sport where kids compete before going to higher level, in the zone between school and going to the national team. Gymnastics, swimming, athletics are not the same; kids come through at different ages. The job of talent spotting is the federation's, but I think we need to focus more on that middle area, on the juniors. We need to give kids the opportunity to experience different kinds of sport, not just football and basketball.

It's difficult to escape Nadal, Gasol et al in the media...

References are the way to go. We need visibility for women. We have some media coverage for female athletes but not as much as the men. Take Marina Alabau [gold in the RS:X class in windsurfing]. You can imagine now this summer everybody is going to want to try windsurfing. We need to make sport a habit in their lives to have athletes in the future.

What was the athletics program like when you were at school?

At school, it was mostly basketball -- I didn't do athletics at all. I remember my first coach. In those days they were volunteers, there were no professional teachers. Coaches at that first stage are the key to developing sport. The more participants we have at that stage of development the better. We need to make coaches feel important. They are not in the spotlight but they are one of the most important parts of developing an athlete, even if people don't know their names most of the time. A big part of me becoming European championship, maybe 50 percent, was my coach. The majority of athletes think the same.

How is your office developing sports in Madrid?

We have been developing sports in schools; we have been working to give more choices to students. These days they have 28 sports to choose from and we do a lot of work in promotion. We go to the schools to show them sports. They can do fencing, golf, rugby... Sometimes we go with famous athletes. If you go with an Olympic medalist the kids think it is amazing. After that they go to clubs and they compete in an inter-school league. I'd like a good track and field competition between schools.

What's the eventual goal for track and field in Madrid?

More participants, so that boys and girls practice all kinds of disciplines; long jump, triple jump, running. You can become a very good athlete combining all the different elements. We have very good athletes in Madrid. Some of them are at the Olympics: Patricia Sarrapio, Víctor Sánchez, who was a Medalist in Helsinki in the 3,000m, Ángel David Rodríguez. And the ones who were injured just beforehand: Jesús España, Chema Martínez, Arturo Casado. It's very hard to go to an Olympic Games and we had a lot of people who were this close [her thumb and index finger come together.]

Ana Peleitero said she would like to emulate your career. Did you have any role models?

I remember basketball players, like Michael Jordan and Fernando Martín, but I didn't really have big role models when I was young because I met them when I was very young. I lived with them. I watched the Dream Team in 1992. I don't have one role model but I admire a lot of things in a lot of athletes. The athlete who is preparing for the Olympics fighting against an injury, for example... I took things from all of them. Francisco Gómez Noya yesterday [silver in triathlon], for example. He had heart problems when he was younger. They said he shouldn't run but he won a silver medal. Also Gervasio Deferr, who was born to win a gold medal. He was a natural talent.

What do you make of the Oscar Pistorius debate?

He broke a barrier, he's a hero. Nobody can be in any doubt about that. I haven't the knowledge to know if this part [indicates lower legs] helps him or not. I have heard opinions from both sides. But that area is the cause of the majority of injuries. In my last year [of competing] I couldn't walk, because of my Achilles. Our knees, our feet... this is one of the most important parts of an athlete's body. But he is a fighter, a winner. He won in his challenge, so nobody can take that away from him.

How will the crisis affect the future of sport in Madrid?

Investment is important but the reality is that we have invested a lot in recent years, in the federation, on facilities. What's important is to maintain the standard during this crisis, to distribute resources in a good way... people who don't will have problems. I think the crisis will eventually pass but it is the time to review models. But the investments we have already made are supporting sport at this time. We will maintain our funds from here to the clubs, to the federations and to local councils, which are a very important part in developing sport. There are a lot of citizens who use their facilities and it's important to keep them in good condition

Finally, Madrid 2012, Madrid 2016... Madrid 2020?

I think it's going to happen this time, we are very close. I've been involved with the bid, but everybody is involved with the bid, the citizens of Madrid are involved. I think Madrid is doing a very good job in a difficult moment

Most of the facilities are already in place after all...

That's an important point, and I'm sure we are close. It's not a great moment but of course sport needs investment. The Olympic Games can be a legacy for future generations and in the development of athletes. The Great Britain team is achieving a lot in London. Also, the stadium is full all of the time, from the morning to the evening. Madrid has a lot of things to offer the Olympics, and the Olympics has a lot to offer to Madrid. We'll see next year.