Spanish sport just keeps on winning. The national team clearly outplayed France in the European basketball championship finals last September and got through to the davis cup final for tennis. What's more, Spanish players snatched the roller hockey world title for the fourth time running, which means more than meets the eye. The victories reflect a glorious era of Spanish sport.
Cyclist Miguel Induráin, golfer Severiano Ballesteros, motorbike racer Ángel Nieto… Before the turn of the century, these well-established names overshadowed those of any other Spanish sportsmen or women. Team sports only knew victory due to foreign-owned clubs or to remarkable performances back in the eighties, such as the basketball silver medal at the 1984 olympics in Los Angeles.
That started way back
Experts trace the beginnings of this golden age back to another olympics: this is surely the case of Barcelona1992. As well as grabbing 22 medals, Spain started improving its future athletes' development by building a revolutionary sports culture. Kids who had barely turned 10 were to become remarkable European sports figures. We shall name just two.
This year's eurobasket MVP or ‘most valuable player’, Juan Carlos Navarro, was just 12-years-old when he made the lower basketball echelons of FC Barcelona back in 1992. Seven years later he went on to grab the FIBA under-19 world championship in Lisbon, alongside his friend, Pau Gasol, leading an entire generation of basketball players towards the undisputed 2006 FIBA world title and the 2009 and 2011 European trophies. Meanwhile, Iker Casillas is the Real Madrid FC and Spanish national football team goal keeper. He became both European and world champion in 2008 and 2010 respectively. By the time of the 1992 olympic success, he was 11-years-old and already one year into his contract with Real. He also won the 1999 FIFA under-21 world championship in Nigeria, alongside teammates Carlos Marchena and Xavi Hernandez.
Getting used to the sweet taste of international victory while still in their teens, these players managed to radically change the unproductive mentality that repeatedly saw teams stumble out of all big football competitions as soon as the quarter finals, or just kept them from a one-on-one encounter with the world's best basketball teams. Nowadays, the sporting exploits of greats such as tennis player Rafael Nadal and racing driver Fernando Alonso have earned them a place among European and world football, men and women's basketball, handball and volleyball medal holders.
Nonetheless, this golden age has also had its not-so-glorious moments. The first one was the doping cases of cyclists Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador, alongside the two largest Spanish judicial investigations involving doping accusations (Puerto and Galgo affairs). The second meant an overall performance drop, which translated into less media coverage and turned any attempt at ever breaking the 22 medal record in Barcelona into an impossible task. Spain only saw Natalia Rodríguez clinch the 1500m women's bronze at the world athletics in South Korea last summer, while the swimming world championships in Shanghai were even more disappointing. The Spaniards brought home no silverware, following a controversial decision to sack their coach. This saw Spain's best swimmer in long years, Rafa Muñoz, fall shy of Shanghai targets.
Apart from its highly successful synchro swimming team, Spain doesn't stand a real chance at any medals in the two sporting events where most medals are up for grabs. The same goes for most of the other 26 events scheduled for London's 2012, where – not counting surprises – Spain will only prove a real contender in football, basketball, tennis and cycling.
This is what makes the fourth consecutive roller hockey world title ever more important, as well as the fact that Spain continues to be a major football power. Despite its great success in recent years, Spain still needs to see improved performances in other sports, especially when it comes to lower profile ones. That would absolutely herald the golden era of Spanish sport.