Spanish sailing, the discipline that has given Spain the most medals at the Olympic Games, has been on the verge of achieving the first metal in Tokyo. Tamara Echegoyen and Paula Barceló have been fourth in the 49erFX category, after the boats from Brazil, Germany in the Netherlands.
Tamara Echegoyen is the oldest member of the Spanish Olympic sailing team. He is 37 years old, an Olympic gold medalist in London 2012 and a round the world trip (in ocean sailing) behind him. She was the first Spanish woman to do the Volvo Ocean Race. Maybe after this fourth place on Tuesday with Paula Barceló in the 49erFX he will say goodbye to the Olympic discipline. Because what she wants to do is do other things, including another round the world tour and that which ended up physically destroyed after the first one. She is a “restless ass”, as she defines herself and the greater the challenge, the more she pursues it. In London he was gold in the Elliott 6m class with Sofía Toro and Ángela Pumariega. In Rio 2016 he sailed another modality, the 49erFX with Berta Betanzos. They were fourth. He has arrived in Tokyo with another shipmate, Paula Barceló, 25 years old and a medical student, from whom they get A’s. The Olympic cycle they have had has been like climbing Everest: because of the injuries, the complications and because they have worked against the clock to make each other. And again on the edge of the podium.
“To be a sailor you have to have technical and physical skills; to navigate 49er [su barco] You have to be a trapeze artist, an acrobat, and on top of that, have the serenity to know where the wind is coming from and how it is going to change. And if you are able to smile at the same time… you have it all won ”, Echegoyen always says while acknowledging that the smiles, at the beginning of this adventure, were less than those that began to add up along the way.
At the end of June 2018, just after finishing the last stage of the sailing around the world (nine months sharing 20 meters of boat with eight other crew members with whom he traveled 45,750 nautical miles, almost 85,000 kilometers, without sleeping more than three hours followed because you had to take turns doing the watches), he got on another boat, the 49erFX, to compete in the Aarhus World Cup and start preparing for the Tokyo Games. In that World Cup they finished in 22nd place. They had not sailed together before. While Echegoyen went around the world, Barceló trained with two sparring to get familiar with the new boat (until 2017 it was competing in 470). He won a selection process organized by the Federation in which not only technical and physical aspects were measured, but also psychological ones. The 49erFX mode requires such coordination that the two sailors have to sail as one. Getting along and understanding each other is essential.
This is how Echegoyen tells it. “We had to improve the weak points. Ours was a very young team, we hadn’t been together for a few months. The truth is that I have a gift for choosing these types of projects that always go against the clock, I don’t know if life puts me in that situation or I am the one who is looking for complicated paths … they are very demanding projects but in the end exciting because of the challenge ”. What were the weak points? “When a team starts from scratch there are many points that you have to work on before you have a level that allows you to navigate. Tactically, strategically and even technically. Paula and I had to first grow as a team and then adapt to the competition. That is why the results did not arrive at the beginning ”.
The adaptation did not give truce. “We did it in express time, it was much faster than I would have imagined. Paula has gone very fast and our characters got on very well to do the daily and arduous work because there was no rest ”. In this task of sowing for the future, Echegoyen drew on experience to manage the months without results. It is not easy to work tirelessly and not see improvement until after months and months. So is the candle. “The experience helps, it also helps to be a hard-working and constant person. There is no miracle formula except daily work ”. The stones that were found were many. In the December 2019 World Cup, qualifying for the Games, Barceló broke the base of the fifth metatarsal of one foot and the doctor had to stop it. He underwent surgery and returned in 2020. A few months before Echegoyen broke his nose at the European and was out for four weeks. In 2020, at last, they were proclaimed world champions.
It was the best shot of energy for these Games. The Enoshima race course is an hour and a half from Tokyo, far from the Village, far from all venues. The team stays in a hotel from which they see the sea. On Monday, when it dawned without wind, they did not suspect that their Medal Race would be postponed to this Tuesday. “We see the sea from the room, but the conditions are never the same until you get to the race course.” Yes the wind blew this Tuesday that allowed them to take the exit. They started the race for the medals in fourth place, seven points from gold and four from bronze. In that final fourth place they finished despite the comeback attempt.
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