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Spain's top women in sport: Girls going global
THAT WOMEN have long taken a back seat to men in sport is hardly a revelation – everyone has heard of Rafael Nadal, Fernando Alonso, Gerard Piqué, and Marc Márquez, even if they do not live in Spain and do not follow tennis, Formula 1, football or MotoGP.
If asked to name a Wimbledon winner, Nadal once again crops up, as does Andy Murray, Novak Ðjoković, Roger Federer and, going further back, Fred Perry, Boris Becker, André Agassi and Björn Börg – whilst if pushed to name a female winner, may eventually come up with Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, Steffi Graf or Virginia Wade who was the last Brit to net the title on home turf, in 1977, before Murray did so in 2013.
Who remembers Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, or even last year's Garbiñe Muguruza – let alone the latter's coach, Conchita Martínez, who took the singles championship in 1994 and was the last Spaniard to do so before her own pupil?
And the Spanish women's handball team won a bronze in London 2012 and two European silvers, and the national women's basketball team has just won its sixth medal, but few of us noticed.
Women's sport is fighting hard to become mainstream, and Spain is certainly doing its bit. Already, Spanish ladies have broken records and put their names on the international map, and the next few years are sure to see a few more female trailblazers.
Some of them need little introduction, but just in case you've overlooked them, here are some of Spain's current stars of the sporting world (you never know when you might need their names for a pub quiz). Move over, men – girl power is getting ahead of the game!
We've mentioned Conchita Martínez's star student already, but the 24-year-old holder of Spain's Royal Order of Sporting Merit bronze medal deserves to crop up here again: you have to be pretty confident to take on the great Venus Williams in a Wimbledon final without quaking in your boots, and yet neither Garbiñe (first picture) nor Conchita, watching from the stands, looked particularly nervous in the summer of 2017 on the All England court. Garbiñe is sometimes overlooked in lists of Spain's top sportswomen, given that she was born in Caracas, Venezuela; however, she is half-Spanish on her father's side, and moved to Barcelona when she was six – having already been playing for two years – and holds a Spanish and a Venezuelan passport, so she more than qualifies. Although not playing at her best at the moment, Garbiñe has shown the extent of her potential, having reached world number one last September and winning the WTA Player of the Year Award in 2017.
Badminton has bounced back into the limelight thanks to Huelva-born Carolina, currently considered the best female player on earth – three-times world champion, four-times European champion, Olympic gold medallist (Rio 2016) and twice-Super Series Premier champion, at the All England and Malaysia Open, both in 2015, it seems there's not much left for Fernando Rivas' top pupil to achieve. And she's only just 25 years old.
Dubbed by the popular media 'A Fish Called Mireia', the 27-year-old swimmer from Badalona (Barcelona province) is said to be the best in Spain's history, if not one of the best in the world. With two silvers at London 2012 and cutting the national speed record down by four seconds, and a gold and a bronze in Rio 2016, the PR student at Murcia's San Antonio Catholic University expects to do even better in Tokyo 2020, which will be her fourth Olympic games. Competing in freestyle, medley and butterfly, she has also been world champion and European champion.
You'd be forgiven if you said you'd never heard of this Murcia-born 21-year-old just a week ago, but now, the fastest woman on two wheels has become a trending topic on Twitter overnight: competing entirely against men, since there's no speed category in motorcycle racing for women, Ana (second picture) saw off all the competition to become Supersport 300 world champion on Sunday, September 30.
Squeezing into the top spot by just one point, Ana became the first female motorcycling world champion in history, but this is not her only record: just a year ago, the rider from Cehegín became the first female to win a race at this level.
Ana was only 16 when she started at Moto3 world championship level, making her the youngest woman ever to ride in this category and, at 14, became the first female to win points in the 125cc championship standings. She followed up with yet another first aged 15 – the best position on the grid earned during a qualifier for any Spanish woman.
In a traditionally male-dominated sport, Ana is a pioneer for her gender and her sudden global fame last week could well be just the start.
Castilla y León's strongest woman is not as famous as she should be, and through no fault of her own: the 33-year-old weightlifter from Ponferrada (León province) was only known for having won the bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympics until, at around the same time, she found out she had actually won a gold in London four years previously and a silver in Peking 2008.
Lydia (third picture) came away from her first Olympics a decade ago with a diploma for fifth place after lifting a total of 250 kilos, or a quarter of a metric tonne – about half the weight of a large horse – which seemed a very creditable achievement for her début in the games.
Lydia improved on this with a fourth-place diploma in London 2012, lifting 265 kilos, only four kilos short of a bronze.
But in 2016, results of anti-doping tests led to International Weightlifting Federation (IWF)'s disqualifying three of the Peking top four in Lydia's category, including Lei Cao and Iryna Kulesha, leading to Lydia's being awarded the silver medal a decade late.
Once again and in the same year, the gold, silver and bronze winners in London were disqualified for doping, and Lydia was given the gold, this time six years overdue.
Her bronze performance in Rio was halfway between her Peking and London achievements, lifting 257 kilos.
Although Lydia says she is pleased to have finally been given her gold and silver, she is disappointed to have missed out on the glory of the moment, representing her country, and on potential sponsorship she may have attracted as an Olympic champion.
But she has been in the top six in five world championships and winner in 2017, and has won three bronzes, three silvers and three golds in European championships, and is the defending title-holder.
Lydia's maximum weight lifted in international competitions was 268 kilos, which won her the 2014 European championships.
One of Spain's first competitors to get on the plane home from Rio 2016, Maialén, 35, scooped up the gold in canoeing soon after the start of the games, shooting to international fame and improving on her London 2012 bronze. It was third time lucky for the Basque kayaker, whose home town of Lasarte-Oria, near San Sebastián, turned a whole street into a beach flanked with oar-bearing locals to greet her upon her return.
But Maialén (fourth picture) had already won the silver and bronze at the 2009 and 2011 Slalom Canoeing World Championships respectively, plus three medals in European championships between 2014 and 2017, and two golds in the Slalom Canoeing World Cup in 2012, one in Cardiff, Wales and another in Pau, southern France.
Although Ana Carrasco holds the trump card in circuit racing, Laia, 32, is by far the best female in rally, trial and endurance in world history. The off-road whizz-kid from Corbera de Llobregat (Barcelona province) owns nearly as many world championship trophies as she's had birthdays – five in endurance and an eye-watering 13 in trial, as well as seven Dakar Rally wins on the trot between 2011 and 2017 inclusive.
Laia, dubbed 'Queen of the Desert' and currently riding with team KTM, learnt to ride a bicycle aged two and, at four, behind her parents' back, started to ride her brother's motorcycle.
Ambassador for UEFA for developing women's football, centre-forward Verónica (Vero) Boquete has won the Champions League and played for clubs in Spain, the USA, Russia, Sweden and Germany, and is currently signed up with Chinese Women's Superleague team Beijing BG-Phoenix FC. She won last year's Algarve Cup as a member of the Spanish team and has been in the top five three years running for UEFA Best Female Player in Europe. The 31-year-old from Santiago de Compostela has so far scored 52 goals, of which 31 were for the national team.
Considered the world's best woman in karate in history, Sandra, 37, has been world number one for three years on the trot and looks set to stay there for a fourth, and has won the last three European and Spanish championships, gold medallist in the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2015 and bronze medallist in the 2016 world championship. Last year, Sandra, from Talavera de la Reina (Toledo province) won the National Sports Prize, one of the highest distinctions in the country.
Along with her ex-partner Adrià Díaz, Sara, 25, was the first figure-skater to represent her country in an International Ice-Skating Union and the first to qualify for a Winter Olympics. Together with Díaz, she has won five national championships, and a sixth with her current dance partner, Kirill Khaliavin.
The first woman in history to win a European boxing championship in the featherweight category in 2016, Joana, 28, went on to repeat the performance last year after knocking out Hungary's Judit Hachbold.
Already this year, Joana (fifth picture) has netted the International Boxing Federation (IBF) featherweight world championship after beaing Oezlem Sahin. And yet she only turned professional less than three years ago.
A major contributor towards the Spanish national team's qualifying for the Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland last year, Patricia, 28, has featured four times in ScrumQueen magazine's best Rugby Sevens team of the year and played for her country in the Rio 2016 Olympics, as well as winning the European championship during the 2009-2010 season. Along with Irene Schiavon, Patricia was one of the two first-ever foreign females to play in the Waikato Rugby Union in New Zealand, and has also played for Lons Rugby Club in France. She is currently midfielder with Olímpico Rugby Club in Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid.
A triathlete from Durango (Vizcaya province), María Cruz Frades – better known as Gurutze – won the Vichy Ironman three years ago in a time of nine hours and 25.27 minutes, a category where she has made it to the podium six times in total and into the top six another six times. The 37-year-old has competed with the Spanish national team six times, won four national long-distance championships and one national medium-distance championship, and broke the Spanish national Ironman record in Brazil last year in the 3.8-180-42.2 South American Championship in a time of nine hours and one minute.
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