Two months after Fernando Carpena, president of the Spanish Swimming Federation, unexpectedly telephoned the coach of the national synchronized swimming team, Ana Tarrés, to inform her that her contract would not be renewed, the under-fire guru appeared at the AS forum to speak about the demands of high-performance sport. Tarrés, who will remain in her post until the end of the year, elected to use the platform to defend her methods after the publication of a statement at the end of September by 15 of her former charges, accusing her of psychological abuse.
Demand and excellence were the two concepts most used by Tarrés during her appearance, her first since the accusations came to light. Defending her long and illustrious career at the helm of the sport, which has proved a veritable mine of gold and silver medals for Spain's synchronized swimming team, Tarrés spoke of the polemic generated by her sudden dismissal in terms that resonated with justification.
"The success of synchronized swimming lies in establishing ambitious objectives, but realistic ones, and in knowing how to motivate your swimmers," said the Catalan coach. Her track record is undeniable: 55 Olympic, World and European Championship medals in 15 years. With the same filler impregnating her every phrase Tarrés described, at times in a whisper, her training methods, which are demanding but at the same time very thorough and based on "getting the best out of your swimmers and making them ready for the team," without forgetting "motivation and the communication of the coach with her athletes to avoid the physical and psychological wear and tear" of spending so many hours in the pool.
"Most coaches know how to train, but not how to motivate," she added.
When speaking of the medals obtained by the team, Tarrés, a pioneering coach in the sport in Spain, did not hide her passion for the task although the federation has now decided to move in another direction. "I am not indispensable," she said. "Everybody deserves their chance." Regarding the new coaching staff, whom she spoke of without acrimony and which includes Spain's most-decorated swimmer, Gemma Mengual, as artistic director, Tarrés noted: "Good coaches require time, and it is time that puts everybody in their place. Projects move forward because of the people carrying them out. It doesn't matter if you have all the necessary means if at the end of the day these people are not competent."
"I have always sought excellence, and obtaining it costs money"
The outgoing coach did not wish to hold forth on the motives behind the letter published by her former swimmers, which accused her of psychological mistreatment and a barrage of verbal abuse, but said that to compete at the highest level "leads to moments of frustration that not everybody can handle."
Tarrés believes that the limit in high-performance sport is that which is reached "by consensus between a coach and her swimmers." The only thing Tarrés felt she could be accused of was "being a real pain when the time comes to ask for things. I have always sought excellence, and obtaining it costs money."
Although she admits that at a personal level she has been very badly affected by some of the claims in the statement, Tarrés would not give up "a single medal" to find herself withdrawn from the scandal. On Monday, Tarrés will come face to face with Carpena in the courts, where she is seeking damages.