He grew up in the Sants neighborhood, started playing at the Joventut Les Corts, became fond of literature, shared a flat with his group of friends in Barcelona, almost a commune, allowed himself to be attracted by the cultural bustle and alternative neighborhoods and ended becoming the longest-lived and most triumphant player in Spanish basketball. He passed through France and the Czech Republic, wanted to discover the hippie life of Australia, but ended up returning home after a brief adventure, again, in the French Bourges. Captain of the Uni Girona and the national team, Laia Palau (Barcelona, 1979) is a woman of records, with character and speech. It is known as a reference. More after the last Games.
There is no more veteran player to participate in the history of Olympic basketball. Palau left the mark in 41 years and 319 days. So, although the transit from Tokyo was not the most successful, the Catalan returned home without metal around her neck but with a warm heart. For the experiences and memories. And despite the latest episode that has tangled the story of a team that won 12 medals in the last decade. An epilogue in which the national coach, Lucas Mondelo, has been accused by some former players who considered that his forms were excessive and harmful. A complicated epilogue to manage that Palau still does not want to speak or comment on. He is on vacation. But he picks up the phone and responds to an interview that was arranged before he left for Tokyo to play what will surely be his last games as a professional.
Question. Is success also reaching the quarterfinals of an Olympic Games?
Answer. Being in the Games as a representative of the Spanish team is a success. We are talking about being among the twelve best teams in the world. It is clear that you cannot ask this team to go for a walk to the Games. We already did that at the time. This team is required to go compete because it can. Then we lost to France. It has been a very cruel summer in terms of results. It has been hard to lose two championships in quarterfinal matches, matches that have been adjusted… But on a human level it has been very cool. The team has been there, it has worked, it has built… and that’s good. The balance cannot be superpositive, but when you put in context who we are, where we come from and what we are trying to do, for me it has not been a wasted summer. You can not always win.
P. How do you swallow defeat?
R. With water. In the end, the grace of all this is that it is life itself. And I say it, that I have always had a tremendous bad losing; and I still have it. We don’t like to lose, that’s why we are where we are… Both games could have been won, both Serbia’s in the Eurobasket, and France’s. But ours is about this and sometimes it is lost for details.
P. Dealing with defeat has influenced that way of being his to doubt everything.
R. No, but I wonder a lot, it’s my way of working. I do not leave any rope to tie in what I do, I am a controller. It’s my way of saying ‘I’m fine, I can do it, I feel like it’. Raising this every day, sometimes, raises doubts. But I have never had any doubts about my role in the national team. I am very clear about what I have gone to do there, I have been there for 20 years, I have given it a lot of love and a lot of dedication. And it has been a bad summer because this is hard and old. You cannot pretend that the cycles of success are forever, because in life nothing is forever and in sports, even less.
P. He thought many times that he would not live off basketball, that this was not his world. How does one resist until 41 while living that inner battle?
R. It is about gauging well where my energy and my commitment are. If every year I renew my contract with myself, this has more power.
P. Do you ask yourself every year if you want to continue?
R. Obviously this is no longer due to inertia. I have no need to continue playing basketball. If I keep doing it, it’s because I’m cool. I’ve had a dwarf time at these Games. I really like the team, I like working with people, I find it exciting to discover what talents each one has, how we can organize ourselves.
P. Do you feel good in that role of reference?
R. I am captain of the national team because I am the oldest; The selection goes by internationalities and if it touches you, it touches you. In addition, I have this character, I like people, I approach, I worry … which is one of the things that captains have to do: be for the team, and not only for the players, but also for the technical team, like liaison with the Federation… I also have to be a reference because I am visible, because I have a speech and because I have to represent Spain. But the selection without Alba Torrens, without Marta [Xargay, una de las que criticó los métodos de Mondelo], Anna Cruz [también crítica] and this whole generation would not have been the same.
P. Sport is good for ordinary mortals, but how much does the body of an elite athlete suffer?
R. It ends up very crushed. At our levels, it is not healthy to play sports. We force the machine a lot. I have been very lucky, and I have been able to continue playing because my body is fine; It hurts in the morning, I’m older and I recover later, but I don’t have any injuries. I have colleagues who go to the physio every day, who live with pain …
P. Do you also suffer mentally?
R. It’s complicated, but you get used to tolerating pain, to forcing. Our thing goes beyond the limits. Being an elite athlete involves many demands and many sacrifices. Less than going to work in the mine, much less. Everything is viewed with perspective. Athletes are privileged, but we have our tolls. And there are some more rogue than others. It all depends on how you adapt to things.