At the age of 28, two months after the Games, a knee crack melted the dream of achieving his second Olympic gold in badminton. Her psychologist, who teaches her to handle the tons of frustration that sometimes accompany high competition, has helped her take the blow and turn her back on her recovery to go all out in Paris 2024. She already did it once: in 2019 Eight months after being injured, he won the China Open.
Question. Do you follow the Games or are they too painful from the couch when your goal was the podium?
Answer. I follow them, but at the opening ceremony I felt pity and anger. By one unfortunate move everything went to waste.
P. Gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from several Games finals due to mental health issues. “We have to protect our bodies and minds, not always do what the world wants us to do,” he said. Does it seem like a brave gesture, necessary?
R. Sometimes, for the public, we athletes are like aliens. Simone Biles, as did Naomi Osaka, showed the human side. It is good that mental health problems are talked about naturally because there are still those who do not understand what they mean and it makes me very angry. Just as no one tells me to compete with a broken knee, they cannot demand that Simone do it without being mentally fit. No one is less strong for having problems.
P. Ona Carbonell had to choose between her baby and the Games because she was not allowed to take him with her while breastfeeding. You supported it. Should high competition facilitate conciliation for mothers?
R. I support Ona, of course, because I am a woman. In the following Games, in Paris, they should give the option of bringing your baby. We have it more complicated than men for things like that and they should make it easier for motherhood and high competition to be compatible because many mothers who have continued to compete have returned home with medals.
P. If Fernando Rivas, her coach, hadn’t gone to see her play that championship, when she was 13 years old, where would she be now?
R. Ugh, I don’t know. I think a lot about destiny, which put Fernando on the path. He came to see me and the following year I was in Madrid, where I have been for 14 years. It has allowed me to make badminton known in my country and it is what I am most proud of. In confinement people played more than me!
P. His mother says that at first she did not even know how to spell badminton. They were very brave when they let her come to Madrid …
R. Nobody knew! They were very brave because it was not easy. I was 14 years old, I am an only child, they had been separated for two years … but they let me fulfill my dream.
P. Who has he fought with the most: his parents or his coach?
R. (Laughs) It’s a good question. I didn’t fight so much with my father. With my mother, yes because we have a strong character. And with my coach I have fought a lot. I’d say they are even.
P. In the series I can because I think I can (Amazon Prime), your trainer tells you that you have to decide “what human you want to be: ordinary, extraordinary or super extraordinary.” What resignations does someone have to do who considers being the best in history at something?
R. You mark a path to the goal and you know that any pebble can divert you. That means giving up a lot: seeing your friends, partying, going to Huelva more than twice a year, eating whatever you want … but I don’t regret anything.
P. He says he has few friends. How many?
R. Five. They are through thick and thin and I am very proud of them.
P. In the series, her friends are seen asking if her coach will give her permission to go out. What was the last decision entirely yours?
R. My coach has advised me a lot in my sports and personal life. It was tough, but maybe if I hadn’t been that stubborn and demanding I wouldn’t have achieved what I have achieved. As a child it was different, but I am already making more decisions because my career is closer to ending than starting.
P. Used for years big data in your sports strategy. Give an example for laymen.
R. We started shortly after coming to Madrid and since then it has developed a lot worldwide. It’s about analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses and those of your rivals and it has given me a lot of advantage in championships.
P. What percentage of the victory is head and body, how much is talent and how much work?
R. I believe little in talent and a lot in work. I started playing when I was eight years old. At 20 I was training nine hours a day …
P. What face were their Asian rivals [en Asia el bádminton es el deporte rey] When did I tell you the number of licenses in Spain?
R. I was a freak because I came from a small town and a country where badminton was totally unknown. They were amazed when I won the first World Cup, in 2014. From that tournament I had 10 cameras in the matches. They saw the danger.
P. Do you remember the first autograph they asked for?
R. Surely outside of Spain.
P. And one that you asked for?
R. Many! I am Rafa Nadal’s surperfán, and today, since I have already spoken a lot with him, I keep getting nervous. It is the greatest in Spanish sport and the most humble.
P. On the podium they usually bite the medal. What does gold taste like?
R. To work, sacrifice and gratitude.
P. And the silver?
R. It depends. Sometimes your rival was better. Others you know that you bundled it.
P. They have been hard years. Did you think about throwing in the towel?
R. Very hard. Two ago I thought that the injury was the worst thing that could happen to me in life. Unfortunately a year ago my father died and I realized that not. The pandemic has also helped me to assess better. But I never thought of throwing in the towel.
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