The deepening crisis in Spanish synchronized swimming was laid bare on Wednesday during an emotional press conference given by team captain Andrea Fuentes, who announced her retirement. Fuentes, who few could have predicted would step so effortlessly into the void left by Gemma Mengual, was not afraid to speak her mind when laying out her reasons for turning her back on the sport.
"Sport is a great social unifying force. Sport should bring people together. Right now I don't see the essence of sport here, and that makes me very sad," an at-times tearful Fuentes said. "It saddens me to see two different groups, to see infighting, to see hatred and grudges. The question is not so much why I have left, but why I have lost my motivation. I was living in a cloud of negativity."
Fuentes ended her speech on that note, in a meeting room that was filled to the brim but where the absences spoke as loudly as the people present. Ana Tarrés was in attendance; the coach who spotted a nine-year-old Fuentes, gave her the leadership of a team getting over the loss of Mengual and who the swimmer was with for 20 years until this week, winning 36 medals during her career.
"I don't want to, nor should I, go on. I'm not leaving because my back hurts, or because my body is tired. I have been lucky to work with wonderful doctors and they have looked after me. I would never quit because of physical pain as I would feel like a loser. It's true I was injured but pain has never stopped me and I have always put the team ahead of my own health. I'm leaving because I feel it is the right time to make a change in my life. Synchronized swimming no longer makes me tick."
I'm tired of living in the middle of a fight, like the Montagues and the Capulets"
Mengual, who Fuentes thanked for everything she taught her, was not present. Federation president Fernando Carpena was, discreetly. Carpena forced Tarrés out and has never forgiven Fuentes for voting for his opponent in the last elections, as the former coach did. The swimmer avoided naming names and did not criticize the federation, but neither did she shy away from controversy.
"Why must we waste our time criticizing each other instead of helping each other? Why destroy instead of building? Why not be nice to each other instead of always being in a bad mood? I'm tired of living in the middle of a fight, like the Montagues and the Capulets. Where is the necessity that projects should arise from vengeance and not from enthusiasm? That's what's happened to synchronized swimming."
A few months ago, just after the Spain team had proven itself capable of overcoming Mengual's retirement with two medals at the London Olympics, Carpena and Tarrés engaged in a bitter public battle after the federation chief announced the coach's contract would not be renewed. Tarrés saw more personal reasons in the decision than sporting ones.
Tarrés' departure was also marred by an open letter signed by 15 former swimmers accusing her of psychological abuse, although the accusations were not backed up with evidence. Of the 15, then team captain Fuentes noted that only three, Paola Tirados, Cristina Violán y Laura López, had ever been under Tarrés' tutelage. The rest, she pointed out, were second-string swimmers who never trained with the national team.