Paddling into exile

David Cal, Spain’s most decorated Olympian, may move to Brazil due to lack of support

David Cal, preparing for the London Games in his native Pontevedra.
David Cal, preparing for the London Games in his native Pontevedra.alejandro ruesga

A meeting last week between Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco, CSD Higher Sports Council chief Miguel Cardenal, Galician secretary general for sport José Ramón Lete and the head of the Spanish Canoeing Federation, Juan José Román, had just one item on the agenda: David Cal’s announcement that he will follow his coach, Jesús Morlán, to Brazil, where the latter has been offered a contract to train the 2016 Olympic host nation’s team.

“They will be talking about me, but without me being there. I am only interested in people that talk to me, not about me,” said Morlán last week. A second meeting was scheduled for this Friday, but the trainer was pessimistic about a counter-offer. “And I don’t want one. I’ll tell them I know who values me more and who values me less. All I ask before leaving is that if things are not what we expect, we can come back here to prepare for the next Games with some guarantees.”

Cal and Morlán are Spain’s most decorated Olympians, with five medals to their name. To train in the very venue where he will compete for a sixth in 2016 was too good an offer to refuse for Cal. “A change of scenery will do us good. Pontevedra in winter is very tough to work in, but not there. We will have a team with us and we will want for nothing,” says Cal.

“We speak very highly of David; he is our jewel,” say employees at the federation. But Cal does not feel the love of its president, Román. “In the last four years we have spoken for maybe 10 minutes,” he says.

If anybody is embarrassed that we have had to leave, it’s not my problem"

“We have been saying for years that the wolf will come, and the wolf is called Brazil,” adds Morlán. The offer from the Brazilian Olympic Committee was made to the trainer, but it is understood there that he comes with Cal attached. After the London Games both decided to continue until Rio but Morlán, who receives a salary from the federation that had been slashed by 14 percent, told his charge: “If they decrease it any more, I’ll have to leave the sport.” “Then I’ll hang up the paddle,” came Cal’s reply.

The CSD has already announced further cuts to subsidies ahead of the 2016 Games.

Cal and Morlán have suffered like all Spain’s athletes from institutional belt-tightening. There have been times that federation credit card has been refused at gas stations and, according to Morlán, there isn’t even enough in their budget for printer ink. They had to ask the Pontevedra provincial authorities to foot some of the bill for a pre-Olympic training camp in the north of Spain.

“I don’t see where the problem is,” says Morlán. “My leaving will save them some money; we all win. If anybody is embarrassed that we have had to leave, it’s not my problem. Brazil is like when you have a new girlfriend; you’re very excited.”

Morlán hopes to have the deal sewn up by the end of February. Cal will inevitably follow, but naturally the Brazilian Olympic Committee will not be picking up his bills. “We have to study the offer in detail but it shouldn’t be a problem. He has the right to a grant based on his results. In a month we hope to have the budgets for the cycle up to Rio completed,” says the Spanish Association of Olympic Sports.

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