Spain toasts its golden girls

Female athletes, often in unsung events, bring home bulk of medal haul

Basque wrestler Maider Unda celebrates her bronze-medal performance.
Basque wrestler Maider Unda celebrates her bronze-medal performance.GETTYIMAGES

If Spain’s medal haul has largely disappointed fans expecting gold in headline events where it has enjoyed international success, such as basketball, tennis and soccer, from now on the country can look to its women athletes to shine in the Olympics, having taken 65 percent of podium finishes in London.

With 17 medals, and three golds, Spanish athletes have turned in similar performances to those since it held the Barcelona Games in 1992, winning an unprecedented 22 medals, with the exception of Sydney in 2000, when it won just 11.

Spain can thank its women athletes for medals in sailing, which has now become one of the country’s strongest events. Spain won the gold medal in the Olympic women’s Elliott 6m competition, edging the previously undefeated Australian trio 3-2 in a thrilling final on Saturday, the final day of the Olympic regatta.

The sailing team of skipper Tamara Echegoyen, Sofía Toro and Ángela Pumariega surpassed all pre-Games expectations to take the title and win the Iberian nation’s second sailing gold in London, following windsurfer Marina Alabau’s more predictable victory in the women’s RS:X windsurfing competition.

This is a historic achievement. This is our first Olympics and we have won the silver"

Also on Saturday, Romanian-born goalkeeper Mihaela Ciobanu saved four out of five penalties to keep Spain ahead of South Korea in the bronze medal game on Saturday and hand the Europeans a first women’s Olympic handball prize. Spain’s better-known male team crashed out in the quarterfinals.

The Spanish female water polo team went into its first Olympic Games as a young and relatively untested team, but immediately made an impression in the preliminary round with some sharp shooting and an efficient defense. Having tied 9-9 with the experienced United States team during the group phase, the side ended up with a silver medal after losing to the US 8-5 in the final, a remarkable step for Spain. “This is a historic achievement,” coach Miguel Oca said. “This is our first Olympic Games and we have won the silver medal. We are happy with silver, although we were going for the gold medal. But the US team was physically much stronger this time.”