Belmonte & Spain: Vergnoux Verdict (So Far)
Mar 15, 2013 - Craig Lord
Mireia Belmonte, Olympic silver medallist over 200m butterfly and 800-m freestyle at LOndon 2012, has emerged from the polemics and challenges of a disrupted winter season all the more mature for her experience. "She's more mature. She listens more," Sabadell coach Fred Vergnoux tells Spanish reporter Àngels F̀̀ab￼regues.
Five months of woe followed the Games after Belmonte fell out with officials at Sabadell in a row over behaviour and disagreements over financial support. Fab￼regues puts some fine questions and Vergnoux doesn't disappoint in his answers, which include the hard truth for Spain and its aspirations for rising up the swim rankings.
Asked how he found Belmonte after reconciliation allowed the two to work together again, Vergnoux says: "She's more mature. She listens more. She sees fewer blocks. I think that winning Olympic medals helped her. I think we're almost at the same level we got to last year, just a little bit shy."
The headline on the Fab￼regues' article - "Mireia is almost back to to where she was but we've lost a lot of time" - is another quote from Vergnoux summing up the status of his Olympic double-silver-medal winning charge after a disrupted winter season on the way to a home world championships in Barcelona this July and August.
Belmonte's world titles schedule is set: 200m butterfly and 800m freestyle, her Olympic medal-winning events, will be joined by the 200m and 400m medley and 400 and 1500m freestyle.
Belmonte leads the way for Spain but Vergnoux's mission is to revolutionise swimming in the country at large - by making the most of what he sees as "great potential".
Asked if he had managed to change the mindset of Spanish swimmers, Vergnoux said that he has had a positive experience but has had to "push, explain, justify, almost plead with them to do things [they needed to do]. It's the mentality of the south … they want results, want to go to the Games, but when you tell them it will take, their faces change."
That said, he was satisfied with what was achieved for London 2012. Indeed "it was more than I thought [would be possible]. It was historic. To repeat it will be difficult."
Over the course of the current Olympic cycle to Rio, Belmonte is likely to be central to any success that Spain may enjoy. This month in Marseilles, she trained through a multiple-event programme at the Mediterranean International, clocking solid times on freestyle and butterfly. Vergnoux was not content with "the times" but the way in which Belmonte competed pleased him.
Beyond the Spanish Open, a qualifier for world titles, Belmonte would not be resting up until her taper for Barcelona 2013. Vergnoux noted: "Mireia needs to swim each day until the worlds, including Sundays, after the Open."
Sabadell's internal problems had cost Belmonte time. Asked about the club's loss of membership numbers in recent times, he said: “It's a difficult time. It's a test. We all have to work as one. Together we can win, but we all have to plunge our hands into the manure. If everyone just looks after their own interest, 'kaputt' [broken]."
Time would tell how the polemics of the winter had affected Belmonte's prospects, said Vergnoux. "She lost four months and in 'Fred's World' that's 16 months of preparation. For me, one week is a month lost."
Coach to Aschwin Wildeboer in his first season of return to Sabadell, Vergnoux believes the Spanish backstroke champion will not be ready to show his full potential this summer at a home world titles. Wildeboer is on a longer-term project, while Claudia Dasca and Judit Ignacio, at London 2012 aged 16, had "very big potential". The trick for them this summer would be to turn the pressure of a home crowd that will include family and friends into "positive energy".
Asked if it was a shame that Spain would host the world titles just a year after London 2012, Vergnoux understood the point, noting: "Yes, particularly in this country in which it takes a lot to get back to work. It took us nearly four months to get back to hard work. It is not that we didn't train but things were done without any commitment.
"It's great to have a home worlds but that come with difficulty," added Vergnoux. "The days after the [meet] ends, I would like to be able to say that we did everything possible to be at our best. Today, the answer to that question is 'no' [we didn't]. After the Open, we will put everything into making sure that is not the answer."
On the issue of why Spain's recent progress has been largely a women's team tale, Vergnoux put it down to work ethic: “The boys find it hard to train at the highest of levels. Hard work. They want to be cool and have it all. There is no spirit of sacrifice. Also, the bigger boys leave the sport for other sports such as basketball or handball."