Spain’s sporting state of grace
Pau Gasol’s triumph with the LA Lakers has prompted more articles in the Spanish media celebrating the country’s incredible run of sporting success.
Gasol was a vital cog in the Lakers machine this season and joins a long list of Spanish champions in individual and team sports.
Spain’s soccer team, after winning Euro 2008, has cemented its hold on the number one ranking by extending its unbeaten run to 33 matches, Barcelona strolled to the Champions League title last month with a humbling of holders Manchester United, Rafael Nadal is the top-ranked men’s tennis player and Spain Davis Cup champions, Jorge Lorenzo is joint leader in the MotoGP world championships and Carlos Sastre won the 2008 Tour de France, the third Spanish victory in a row.
“Another success for Spanish sport,” Nadal wrote of Gasol on his website on Tuesday. “It’s hard to take in everything that we are achieving,” he added. “We should be very proud.”
“Gasol has passed a new milestone for Spanish sport, even if there are not that many goals left to achieve,” said sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky.
Writing in Marca newspaper on Tuesday, columnist Santiago Segurola said the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 were a turning point for the country, changing the way people outside Spain viewed the nation and laying the foundations for today’s sporting achievements.
However, the recent success of athletes like Gasol and Nadal could be a mixed blessing for the team bidding to bring the Olympic Games to Madrid in 2016.
It helps raise the nation’s global profile but also serves to underline the relative weakness of Spain in the key Olympic sports of athletics and swimming.
“We are enjoying the luxury but lacking in the basics,” Segurola wrote.
Spain’s performance at the last Olympics in Beijing, where they came 14th in the medals table behind the likes of Jamaica, Netherlands and Ukraine, underscored their athletes’ deficiencies, Juan Bautista Martinez wrote in Tuesday’s La Vanguardia.
But at a time of economic crisis, with unemployment soaring and firms closing down, sport had become a kind of motor of society that had helped lift damp spirits, he said. “When everything is going down the tubes, sport comes to the rescue.”
Whether or not Madrid pips Chicago, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro to win the right to host the 2016 summer Games, the elusive dream for many Spaniards remains winning the soccer World Cup for the first time.
If Fernando Torres, David Villa, Xavi and Andres Iniesta maintain anything like their current form, South Africa next year could well be the icing on the cake for this over-achieving nation of 40 million people.
PAU: Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol reaches for a rebound in the 3rd quarter during Game 4 of their NBA Finals series against the Orlando Magic in Orlando, Florida June 11, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski
INIESTA: Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta holds the trophy after their Champions League final victory against Manchester United at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, May 27, 2009. REUTERS/Darren Staples