Team Spain hopes the sweet smell of success will overcome Rio’s stench

The stink from the Jacarepagua Lagoon hasn’t dented the Spanish Olympic team’s determination to bring home gold

Diego Torres
The Spanish delegation after hoisting the flag inside the Olympic Village.
The Spanish delegation after hoisting the flag inside the Olympic Village.ESTEBAN BIBA (EFE)

The tropical breeze drifting towards Rio’s Olympic Park from Jacarepagua Lagoon carries the unmistakable smell of sewage.

Swept away by the excitement of building the park and athletes’ village, sanitation infrastructure failed to keep pace. All that mattered was that the world’s finest athletes should enjoy the mythical enclave that is built in every country that wins the bid for the most ecumenical event in the world.

Some of the athletes ignoring the smell and focusing instead on the weeks ahead include the Spanish, who attended the flag ceremony in the central square with hopes of taking home as many as 20 medals, several more than in 2012, when they won three gold, 10 silver and four bronze.

Studies suggest that Spain has the potential to take home 53 medals, though 17 is more realistic

“My Olympic dream has already come true,” said Juan Peralta, the racing cyclist from Navarre. “I’ve met Rafa Nadal!” Then, in a burst of emotion, he echoed the philosophy espoused by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games – that the important thing is to take part; that you can’t lose as long as you cross the finish line.

The magic of the Games is concentrated within the Olympic Park and Village, which the athletes temporarily call home and where the Spaniards are nurturing their dreams of glory, egged on by Spain’s Superior Sports Board.

Swimming and athletics

“We could win around 18 medals,” says Miguel Cardenal, the board’s secretary. Nobody, however, believes Spain will beat the 22-medal record that it set on home turf at the Barcelona Olympics.

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According to experts, the Spanish team excels in athletics, swimming and gymnastics. There are also promising athletes in minority sports such as badminton, canoeing, triathlon and sailing. The basketball and tennis players are among the most popular sports personalities, but all eyes are on Garbiñe Muguruza, not Rafa Nadal, for gold.

Meanwhile, in athletics, the hurdler Orlando Ortega, the walker Miguel Ángel López and the high jumper Ruth Beitia are all contenders for a medal. In swimming, Mireia Belmonte and Beitia are hopefuls, with Belmonte a favorite in three disciplines – the 200m butterfly, the 400m and 800m freestyle. In gymnastics, the rhythmic team is in with a sporting chance.

Badminton player Carolina Marín, white-water canoeist Maialen Chourraur, taekwondo ace Joel González, triathlon star Mario Mola and the sailors of class R5 and 49er are also earmarked for medals.

In total, studies suggest that Spain has the potential to take home 53 medals, though 17 is more realistic, with predictions on six male, nine female and two mixed.

Blanco at the helm

Alejandro Blanco, President of the Spanish Olympic Committee and a judo champion, was in charge of the hoisting of the Spanish flag in the Olympic Park. Spanish judo it not at its best and, according to experts, it’s not going to make a comeback at these Games. But when it comes to optimism, no one can beat Laura Gómez, a Valencian judo competitor.

“I am replacing pressure with excitement,” she said after the flag went up on the eve of the opening ceremony.

Sugoi Uriarte, a another member of the judo team, was similarly positive. “I am hungry for revenge,” he said, remembering how he came fourth in London – a disappointment for any sportsman. Uriarte is 32 and is not a favorite with the experts. But when the Games kick off on Saturday, the experts could be proved wrong.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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