"Get out of the water, fat ass! Go to the psychologist!" "Stop being such a prude. You've fucked everything that moves..." These denigrating and domineering phrases have been attributed to the former coach of the Spanish synchronized swimming team, Anna Tarrés, whose contract the federation recently decided not to renew. The allegations were published in a letter of complaint dated September 22 and signed by 15 former members of the team. Details of the letter were made public by TV station La Sexta on the same day as the team's new coaching staff was announced.
The document contains four letters under a revealing title: "When you can avoid a wrongdoing, it's stupidity to accept it."
On the final two pages, titled "Personal experiences," are a series of traumatic episodes allegedly endured by the swimmers at the high performance center in Sant Cugat, Barcelona. Some of the recipients of the worst verbal assaults remain anonymous but others have signed the complaint. One team member who later suffered from bulimia was told: "I'm sure you looked good in figures but as you're so fat I can't spoil the look of the team."
Ana Violán, a team member until 2007, said that after five hours of training one day she asked Tarrés: "Anna, can I get out of the pool to vomit?" Her coach replied: "No! Swallow it, you still have an hour-and-a-half left! If you don't, go home and don't come back."
Laura López Valle relates how Tarrés told her not to go to receive the medal of Sporting Order of Merit bestowed on the team for its silver at the Beijing Olympics because she was inferior to her teammates.
Among the other signatories to the document are Eva Zhdanova, Cristina and Carla Violán, Neus Seguí, Jordina Pallarols, Julia Casal, Itziar Aspe, Clara Oyonarte and Itahisa Robaina. Three more ratified the letter but prefer to remain anonymous while one signed using just her given name, Laia.
Although the swimmers' personal experiences are the most eye-catching part of the document, they go further still. While recognizing the results obtained by Spain under Tarrés over 15 years, her methods are strongly criticized.
"Today we have decided to unite to tell our story;" reads the letter. "To bring to light all the things that up to now have remained hidden behind the medals." The signatories also spell out why they waited until Tarrés was no longer in charge of the team to speak out: "We must assume part of the blame. [...] In some way, we came to believe that Anna was an immovable figure. [...] You were either with her or against her, and to be against her meant kissing your career goodbye."
More seriously still, the swimmers say that they tried "years ago" to complain to the sporting authorities about Tarrés' practices but claim they were ignored. Tarrés, who took over the post in 1997, had a contract that was due to expire on December 31, 2012. On September 6 the federation telephoned her to tell her that it would not be renewed in spite of the successes of the team at the London Games, where a silver and a bronze were won, and the proximity of the 2013 Fina World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona.
The federation said that its decision not to renew Tarrés' contract was due to "strictly professional reasons and ones of sporting policy." Under Tarrés' direction, Spain won four Olympic medals (three silver and a bronze), 26 world championship medals (one gold, 14 silver and 11 bronze) and 25 European medals (three gold, 15 silver and seven bronze.) Tarrés will be replaced by former team member Ana Montero, who was fourth in the Athens Olympics. Also in the new technical team will be Gemma Mengual, who won 39 medals over a career spanning 20 years.