It is ten o’clock at night in Tokyo, more than 24 hours have passed since Ray Zapata (Santo Domingo, 28 years old) has obtained the silver on the ground and says, in a telephone conversation with EL PAIS from his room in the Olympic Village, that still don’t believe it. That he has not yet assimilated it and that it will take a few days to do so. He also tells that he has no tears left from crying so much.
Question. How many hours have you slept?
Answer. Three hours. I have been so active these days that my mind has not finished assimilating all this and I have not finished relaxing one hundred percent.
P. How many messages have you received?
R. Buah…. I uninstalled the WhatsApp and the networks three days before the competition started and everything is coming in all at once.
Q: Why did you uninstall it?
R. Because I started to get overwhelmed, I couldn’t waste time with it. I only went in once to record a thank you video.
P. What do you remember about your childhood in Santo Domingo?
R. That it was very confusing, I would climb everything I could … trees, houses, cars, everything. He was a disaster, a very crazy madman. He was a restless, I hope Olympia [su hija de dos meses] not be like I was when I was little.
P. Why did you move to Spain?
R. My mother decided to come for the quality of life, the improvement, for our future. He came to the Canary Islands because he had relatives in Lanzarote who had come before and they spoke very well to him. Then he took all the brothers and my father. We are five; I’m the only boy and I’m the one in the middle We are not all from the same mother and father, but we are one hundred percent foster siblings. You can’t imagine how spoiled my sisters have me.
P. Who took you to a gym for the first time?
R. They didn’t take me, I went after my sisters, they did gymnastics and I went to see an exhibition. I saw that there were boys circling in the air and I said: ‘uh, I also want to sign up to do the turns, these are cool.’ At first I thought that gymnastics was only for girls and no. I signed up and I was blown away. I started on the ground, which was what I liked the most and soon I began to stand out. And up to here. It was like a sign. Like so many that I have received on this trip to Japan.
P. What signs?
R. I saw a dove shitting and said: it’s a sign. I saw a huge crow the other day leaning against a fence outside the training gym and said, oysters, another sign. Are there crows in Japan? I saw signs everywhere, I think it’s something in my head that was looking for an excuse to make me feel good. He walked through the town and only saw Olympic medals, another sign. I’ve gone a little crazy these days …
P. What got you hooked on gymnastics?
R. That you are discovering that you have potential and that also by working you see that you achieve very good things and you see that people look at you more than the rest, that you jump half a meter more than the rest. And I also love to jump very high, the more the better. Now I have regulated more because the higher you jump and the faster you go, the more difficult it is to control. I had to go down and start running a little less in the floor exercises because I was going off the track and not nailing the jumps. I had to be more precise, before he only told me: ‘put him up and when you fall you have already fallen ‘. Over time you gain experience and learn to compete.
P. What have Víctor Cano and Gervasio Deferr meant in this learning?
R. Everything, if I’m here today it’s because of them. I did my share of work but needed someone to support my dream and they did. I knew that would come, because I really wanted, more desire than I had no one. In fact, when I was going to do rallies at high-performance centers, I saw guys there who were out walking and I was dying to get into, not the national team, but the CAR. I do not know how to do a handstand while resting like my colleagues do. I do the handstand and it is a constant struggle and I have to be stronger than their arms to hold the handstand as they do.
P. And why is that?
R. Due to lack of techniques because I started late and that is a job from when you are young. I did not do it, I had to learn while learning elements. I had to work twice as much in less time.
P. But is that much more enjoyable later?
R. It could be … However, in the floor exercise one of the elements in which I have the worst time is the easiest: when I drop to the ground, I open my legs and do a handstand with my hands open. It is a very basic element of gymnastics, but I do not have full balance in the handstand. And I have a hard time. I count the seconds, one, two [los que tiene que durar] and I say: ‘now, run, run, please let it pass now’.
P. Do you talk to yourself during exercise?
R. I have hour-long conversations with myself during exercise. And that which lasts a minute and ten… All the time I am saying to myself: ‘let’s nail, don’t run too much, step back, nothing happens, nail, nail the next one, you’re late, fast’. I don’t want to think that, it’s my brain that creates it. It is a sensor, it sends you signals and you have to respond to them.
P. Why has it taken 13 years to get an Olympic medal in Spanish artistic gymnastics again, from Deferr?
R. Complicated question. We have very good means compared to other sports, but then you see other countries like the United States for example, and there a gymnast who gets a medal in a World Cup has his life settled. In Spain it is not like that and it is a shame. More should be invested, more visibility should be given. The more visibility, the more children are going to sign up and the more chances there will be that a Gervasio Deferr will appear.
P. What has gymnastics given you?
R. It has made me mature very quickly, it has taught me to hold the pressure, it has put me in the predicament of saying: “Do you really want this? You are injured with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Do you really want to stay here and get an Olympic medal? ” It has taught me to have perseverance, to fight against any impediment, not to give up.
P. What gift is going to be made to celebrate silver?
R. I would like to buy a house as a gift, but I don’t have the money to buy it.
P. He said last year that he had entered a loop and that he was so demanding that he considered finishing second a failure and that he spent months without getting more than two or three hours of sleep. Why do people believe that athletes are machines?
R. I get up at 6.30 in the morning to go to training because I want to be the best, but we are not machines. We are people who try to be perfect, but there is no such thing as perfection. Not even Simone Biles is perfect and that she is so superior to the others that she can even allow herself to fail because even with the failures she will win. She is not perfect but she wants to have a perfect competition, as we all want. She was physically fine here, from what I have been able to observe these days, but the head is a very big world. You have to know what goes on in that head to be able to comment. I have understood one hundred percent that he has retired and it seems to me a very brave decision. Knowing that by failing he can win them all, he has said: “No, because my head is not right.”
P. Has your head played a trick on you too?
R. Much, much with the issue of not sleeping. He couldn’t sleep and it was something he couldn’t control, he was so obsessed with wanting to qualify for these Games that he wanted to embroider everything and if he didn’t embroider he wouldn’t sleep.
P. How did it go?
R. With the help of the psychologist [Pablo del Río], which taught me to put the focus where it had to be put. I thought Pablo was going to retire because I’m like a goat and I thought he was not going to put up with me. I have been withdrawn for so long because I wanted to achieve so many things, I had so many goals, that I did not free myself.
P. What are you proud of?
R. To have been able to overcome all the bad things that I have gone through, all the hours of sleep lost. To remove the negative thoughts that I had: What if I am not worth it for this? I am proud to say: ‘Yes, hell, of course you are worth it’.
P. When did you wonder if it was good for this?
R. All the times that I’m training like a bastard to be first and second. I may not be worth it, but the maximum I am giving is not enough.
P. Will it last until Paris 2024?
R. Of course I’m going to give it a try, since I’m here.
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