Image of the Spanish sprinters in the 4x100m relay meeting in a circle this Saturday wearing the Hayward Field tartan, euphoric about their fifth place finish in a very tough final, a ceiling never reached before, saying to one another, “Take this moment”, Because you never know if there will be more like this, it was the last happy sight of the team of 56 athletes who were transferred to Eugene. It was the penultimate test with Spanish representation. The last was the men’s 35K walk this Sunday, which did not result in a medal. And both facts, the increase in speed and the disappointment of the march, explain the ups and downs of the Spanish team in Oregon, which, with two bronze medals and six finalists, matched the performance of Doha 2019 (1 bronze and 1 seven finalists).
The World Cup started on the wrong foot. The first day was the day they had further hopes. Two fourth-place finishers from Tokyo were in contention for the 20-kilometer race: María Pérez and Álvaro Martín. And the other two men, Diego García and Alberto Amezcua, couldn’t help but cause a stir. They also traveled to the US in time to avoid jet lag and acclimatize with training at the Colorado altitude. On the key day, however, almost nothing went right. Pérez was disqualified, Martín couldn’t keep up the lead and finished seventh, Amezcua was close to reaching the final (ninth) and García was 16th.
With recent medalists at Oregon’s major championships absent — triple jumper Ana Peleteiro due to pregnancy and 110-meter hurdles Orlando Ortega due to injury — the disappointment of the march prompted him to schedule Ghost of London 2017, the only one World Cup of 17 celebrated in front of Oregon, to which the Spanish expedition returned empty, without a medal. It didn’t help that jumper Eusebio Cáceres didn’t catch a medal jump despite finishing as a finalist (eighth). Another podium ball disappeared.
But on the third day Spain was revived in the most unexpected way: Asier Martínez, a 22-year-old political science student, sixth in Tokyo, came with the prospect of doing a good job but the metal, given the level and his condition as a rookie, seemed to be it being a very difficult achievement.
But due to a stroke of fate everything turned for the better even before the start of the final: One of the favourites, the Olympic champion in Tokyo, Hansle Parchment, injured himself in the warm-up. And seconds later, the American Devon Allen, who started with the second best time, managed a controversial false start by just one hundredth. Martínez, who had the penultimate mark, sees a freeway open ahead of him to something that seemed impossible just minutes ago. And he gets in the Ferrari. He runs everything, he sets a personal record and a Spanish U23 record, and he only realizes he’s won the bronze at the finish when he turns his head to the left. In one fell swoop, the mood changed from gloomy to festive.
Doha’s medal record is level and everything is trying to improve. It is not possible in the marathon, the test that brought Spain the most gold at the World Championships (two by Abel Antón and one by Martín Fiz), where for the first time in history there is no representative reserving the long distance runners for the European Munich starting in three weeks, where the medals are cheaper without the African presence in between. But there are other hopes: The middle distance comes with three athletes in the men’s 1,500 m and three more in the 800 m.
They will be heads and tails. Spain has lived with the idea of being a fertile ground for talent to emerge on the 1,500m for many years. But more recently, one has had to go back further and further to recall achievements. It had been 23 years since an athlete had hung the medal at that distance. Mohamed Katir, who came to Spain from Morocco as a child and settled in the Murcian town of Mula, broke this curse with a bronze medal. And University of Mississippi chemistry graduate Mario García Romo from Salamanca did a memorable job with fourth place.
The film was very different when it came to the 800-meter dash, which had starred in very even and high-quality finals at the national championships and just broke the bank at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade in March with Mariano García’s win. The Galician Adrián Ben crashed in the qualifying laps despite a good race. And Álvaro de Arriba and Mariano García didn’t get past the semifinals. Ben warned him before the start that they would all be on the same footing and could fall in the first lap when they were close to the medals.
For the second walk, the long 35km race that made its debut in a World Championship after the 50km was cancelled, Spain provided two women and three men. There were no medals, but outstanding performances: Raquel González was fifth and Laura García-Caro sixth. Best among men was Miguel Ángel López, tenth.
For Álvaro Martín, seventh in the 20K walk, “a little bit more” was expected from the Spanish walk in Oregon, although there have been athletes who have stuck to it. “You have to go the same way and that there are more Spaniards, that’s ultimately a statistical question. Japan has a lot of volume and that’s why it’s doing so well,” he says.
Oregon’s result was helped by a new generation: only Cáceres repeats among the Doha finalists. With the Eugene World Championships postponed by a year due to the pandemic, we have less than ever to wait for a new opportunity: next year’s turn is Budapest.
A second chance in Munich
The summer of 2022 is rather atypical for athletes. Never before have World and European Championships fallen in the same season, but the one-year delay in hosting the World Championships in Oregon due to the pandemic has meant that both championships are almost back-to-back. The continental competition in Munich starts in just three weeks. This anomaly has prompted the technicians to reserve the Spanish marathoners for the European Championship, a step that other teams have also taken, since the proximity prevents them from competing twice with guarantees at such an aggressive distance for the body and in Germany a priori have more medal options. For the rest, the doubling of Eugene and Munich will not be a problem, even if it has forced a strategic approach: some athletes have set their sights on the European Championships and have seen a way in the World Cup to put a competitive tone in front of the key moment of the competition Season. Eugene can also play an emotional role: the good work in the men’s 1,500 meters, the women’s 4×100 meters relay, Asier Martínez in the 110 meters hurdles or Sara Gallego in the 400 meters hurdles leave her strengthened and arrive at the continental event with more confidence. On the contrary, those who expected more, like some of the protesters, have an opportunity to catch up. The European Championship returns four years later, after the cancellation of Paris 2020 due to the pandemic. At the last event, Berlin 2018, Spain won 10 medals: 2 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze medals and finished ninth in the medal table. That will be the threshold he will try to break again in Germany, where the last two Spanish gold medals of the European Championships will be: the 20-kilometer walk champions María Pérez and Álvaro Martín.