The strong Coronavirus crisis in Spain and the strict social isolation measures implemented by the government have left elite Spanish swimmers without a pool to train for the Olympic Games that will take place in Tokyo next July.
Since February 23rd, a group of 13 swimmers that includes the high-performance groups of Fred Vergnoux and Jordi Jou, was at the High Performance Center of Sierra Nevada preparing the Spanish Olympic trials. But the government declared last Saturday the national State of Emergency and decided to close all High Performance training centers and sports facilities in the country, forcing swimmers to return home. These 13 swimmers were Mireia Belmonte, Paula Juste, Lidón Muñoz, Jimena Pérez, Jessica Vall, Alba Vázquez, África Zamorano, Miguel Durán, Albert Escrits, Pol Gil, Ferrán Juliá, Alberto Martinez and Joan Lluis Pons; many of them already qualified or pre-qualified for Tokyo.
The European Champion and Olympic swimmer Jessica Vall told EFE, a Spanish news agency, that when they traveled from Sierra Nevada to Barcelona, some of the swimmers had the possibility to continue training at the High Performance Center of Sant Cugat. However, before entering the facilities, a positive case for the virus occured within the medical personnel of the center and their plans fell apart.
After one week complying with the hygiene and home confinement policy established by the government, swimmers are waiting for a solution coming from the Royal Spanish Swimming Federation (RFEN) and the Higher Sports Council (CSD), so that they can continue preparing the Olympics. Virtually none of them have a pool at home for training. Another consequence of the Coronavirus crisis is the cancellation of all sports events, including the Olympic trials in Sabadell. As of today, RFEN has yet to set changes on the classification criteria for Tokyo.
Important voices of the Spanish swimming such as Vall and the Olympic champion Mireia Belmonte have already asked the competent authorities for a solution that allows them to train in a pool.
“The first thing is people’s health, but you also have to look after the athletes. In my case, being a minimum of two weeks without training is very serious, I have no way of doing roller, using a simulator or anything.“, explained Belmonte in a statement to the radio program” El Larguero”, by Cadena Ser.
“If Italy, which situation is worse than ours, has found a solution so that athletes can train, I believe that our country is no less and can seek equal or better solutions. With this break I think that we are not going to perform well in Tokyo“, warned Mireia, referring to the act approved by the Italian Council of Ministers, which establishes that Olympic or “national interest” athletes can continue training for Tokyo.
“I just need a pool anywhere. In Tarragona, in Girona, wherever. I don’t mind being training alone and separated from my family. I just need to not lose the last four years of my life.“, insisted the 200 butterfly Olympic champion in Rio.
However, Irene Lozano, president of the CSD, exposed the following in “El Larguero”: “I understand the frustration of our athletes, especially the swimmers, because they cannot train for the Olympic Games due to the State of Emergency, but the restriction is total these next two weeks.” At the moment the CSD will leave the swimmers without training for 14 days, and then they will review the possibility of loosening up the measures.
Fred Vergnoux, Belmonte’s coach, claimed in an interview to EFE that “a week without jumping into the water equals to a full month of preparation lost” and demanded to be confined with his swimmers in a center with a pool. Jessica Vall‘s coach, Jordi Jou, also declared to EFE that “stopping swimmers is drowning them“.
The CSD met by teleconference this past Tuesday with the different territorial delegations to establish the guidelines to follow with the Spanish sport. We will soon know if they decide to establish measures such as those in Italy that allow Olympic athletes to train during the Coronavirus crisis, or seek alternative solutions.