Mireia Belmonte: “I don't feel less popular for being a woman”
The four-time Olympic gold medalist, AS' best Spanish sportswoman in history, takes a moment out to chat to us ahead of this month's awards gala.
Later this month, Mireia Belmonte will be presented with an award for being the best Spanish sportswomen in history at Diario AS' 50th anniversary awards gala. The swimmer, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, took a moment out to chat to us about her career and her hopes for the future.
You have been voted the best Spanish sportswomen in history by Diario AS, what does it mean to you to receive the award?
To be honest, I'm immensely proud that a media outlet such as this newspaper, with its long history delivering sports news, has recognized me. All I say is Thank You, with all of the humility of a sportswoman who has tried to aspire to the peak of my sport throughout my career. I hope I can be a dignified example for all that AS has recognized me for.
For you, who were the sportsmen/women who you looked up to when you were little and who do you admire at the moment?
With any doubts, Rafa Nadal and Michael Phelps, although I realize that there are many other sportsmen and women who have also shown magnificent dedication and effort in their chosen sports too.
We have pioneering sportswomen to thank - Mireia
Looking back over previous ceremonies, almost all of the award winners have been men. Since you started out, have there been any changes in the way sportswomen have been acknowledged in their fields?
To be absolutely honest with you, the improvements we have seen in raising the profile of women in sport have largely been down to one thing - the drive and commitment of a lot of women who have been pioneers in their sports in our country. And we also must take into account the passage of time and new legislation which has opened up avenues for women who want to take up sport professionally. It's important to remember that back in the 1970s, many women were not present in certain jobs, but since then they have made it possible for other women to excel in various different and diverse socio-political areas. It's been a long time coming but now, the efforts of all women are being recognized.
Do you think you would be even more popular than you are if you were a man?
In a sport like swimming, in practice, there are no inequalities that I am aware of. I realize that there huge efforts are being made to give women swimmers more exposure - and that is fundamental. So in that aspect, the media such as yourselves have an important role to play. I haven't felt any less popular for being a woman, but that is my own personal experience; I'm sure that other sportswomen might feel different because in their sports, it's not quite as equal for the sexes.
In the men's section, the best sportsman is Rafa Nadal. What qualities do you admire in him?
He's a reference as a sportsman and as a person. His playing out on the tennis court has put him among the very best, but it's his sporting and personal values which have pushed him and enabled him, to become the best, without any doubt.
Looking ahead to the New Year
After your successes in Budapest, what goals have you set yourself for 2018?
My main aim is the European Championships in Glasgow.
Will your coach Fred Vergnoux remain in Barcelona up until the next Olympics?
I would like him to continue with us, but the final decision has to lie with him.
If he decides to leave for Font Romeu, will you join him to train there?
That's a scenario which I have not thought about.
Ten years ago, could you have imagined winning all of the medals you have amassed?
If memory serves, 10 years ago I won my first silver medal in the European Championships in Debrecen, Hungary. Once you get near the top at European or world level, you hope that more successes will follow. Becoming an Olympic or world champion isn't easy, because you are competing against the best in the world. But I do realize that I have accomplished an exceptional dream - and everything I have achieved has given me enormous satisfaction.
Every swimming event has something special to offer, which one have you enjoyed the most and why?
I enjoy every event because each of them gives me the opportunity to perfect and improve my technique. Although I have to admit that, to be honest, butterfly is the style which really stimulates me.
If you could define your life in three lines, what would be your reply?
Strictness, consistent, commitment and giving everything I have to give in every competition and event I take part in. You will never be blinded by success if you have a solid foundation in the hard, day-to-day graft which the essential part of any career.
Which film or book has made an impression on you recently and why?
I'm currently reading the book Mujer, Discriminación y Deporte (Women, Discrimination and Sport. Pub. Reus), by María José López González. I have been captivated right from the first chapter on her account of how professional sportswomen are treated which she puts in context and illustrates very well.
After Budapest and the World Cup, how many days did you go without diving into a pool?
I took a 15-day holiday, although there were six days when I had commitments to honour.
Thank you very much and congratulations Mireia.
Thank you and all the best of luck to AS, may you continue for many more years to come.