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Belmonte and Vergnoux

Oct 23, 2014  - James Parrack

The Spanish national had a pretty successful European championships this summer, particularly from the women’s team.  Led by double Olympic silver medallist, Mireia Belmonte, the women brought home 3 gold, 3 silver and 3 bronze medals, and finished as the second strongest women’s team behind Italy.  The other medals came in the 200m back (gold: Duane De Rocha), 200m fly (silver: Judit Ignacio) and the 200m breast (Jessica Vall).  Belmonte won 2 gold (200m fly and 1500m) among her 6 medals and her coach, Fred Vergnoux, was once again named Spanish coach of the year.

The squad were at the BEST Centre, Mallorca last month to start their new season and SwimNews caught up with Vergnoux and Belmonte, a couple whose success has been made in Spain.

 Mireia Belmonte

 Belmonte came to the meet to test herself, both over the 5k, where she won bronze, and through another typically busy week.  “It was a good competition,” she said. “First because of the programme, and doing the 5k as well, which was the first time for me in a major meet and I was very happy with that, and secondly, because I recovered very quickly from race to race.”

Belmonte is a swimmer who swims multiple events but in Berlin, recovery was very difficult because it was such a long way from the warm up pool to the competition pool.  This made any kind of swim down completely impossible on day 4, when the Spaniard swam the 800m followed immediately by the 200IM. “The 800m was good but I was very tired coming out, even though I eased up on the pace in the second half.  Doing the 200IM straight after was something I wanted to do.  I couldn’t get to the swim down pool, so I just put ice on my legs and waited for the next event.  The work I do with Fred is very physical, with many sessions one after another so I get used to it physically and mentally.  The mental preparation is very important to be able to give everything.”

Belmonte has learned also to be patient.  In London 2012, her two silver medals (800m free and 200m fly) came at the end of a busy week, where medal chances were drying up.  “The sessions aren’t the same and you don’t always feel the same in training.  Plus, you don’t always swim well in every race so you need to be patient.  I have a lot of races, so if you don’t win the first races, there are more to come.”

The world championships, long and short course, the world cup and other main meets are important for Belmonte to compete with the best, in order to see how her rivals race and to prepare for Rio.  “You always need to compete against the best,” she says.

Belmonte has learned a lot in her four years with Fred.  “I have progressed as athlete and a person.  He has taught me a lot about high performance and how to be an elite swimmer.  Initially, I thought that being an elite swimmer was winning the Spanish championships, but it involves a lot more than that.  It’s important to know what you want and what you want to reach.  Don’t  be scared to dream and have a goal, in sport and in life and then take your time to achieve it.  The most important thing is to enjoy every minute while you are doing it.”

 Fred Verngoux “ Spanish national coach and Head coach most recently in Edinburgh, Paris, Sabadell and now San Cougat in Barcelona.

  “For us, this year has been a transition year after the Olympics and worlds.   Some swimmers have maybe trained a bit less, travelled, raced more, raced less, so we expected Europeans to be a bit different.  This year has been confirmation that some swimmers are focused on the Olympic Games; some are trying different events, some are just making sure the world knows they are no1 at what they do.  For me it has been nice to see the British team swim so well after the Commonwealth Games.  It has been something they have been looking for, for many years; to repeat winning medals back to back. They have put themselves in a really good position two years from Rio.  For us, Spain, we were very successful on the women’s side and were ranked second overall  behind Italy.  For the men, we brought a young team who made some finals, but they need work before Rio.

For Berlin, we looked at the programme and we looked at the last day first, which was the 200m fly and 400m free.  There was not much rest and the warm down pool was 6 minutes away, so there was really no time to recover, so that what the first difficulty.  Then looking at the 800m free and 200m IM, I said maybe we don’t do either of them, but she said she would do both.  I thought perhaps it is better to try something impossible here, and we found out that in fact it was impossible, rather than in two years’ time at the Olympics.

 “Our preparation for Rio starts here.  We started this season here in week 2 in Mallorca (mid September), we are getting back into routine of twice a day and to start the season as a team.  We have only done it once before, which was in an Olympic year, and we wanted to repeat it, in a great place, outdoors, and start the season as a team.  The national team will next be together at the world short course, so we wanted to set up the season as a national team.

 "A typical week at home in Barcelona is 10 sessions, with Wednesday afternoon off, we do gym every morning, and twice or three times a week we do some cardio: biking, running, rowing, or skiing when we are in altitude.  A usual week is 75-85km, and at camps, we swim a lot more for example, we did 112k for four weeks straight.  We swim twice a day Monday to Saturday, so over 12 sessions at 10k a session, the volume gets pretty high.

  “This is my fifth season with Mireia and when I arrived she was already a European champion and a world junior champion, so already she was world class.  We go one season at a time but are always thinking about the Olympics.  Mireia really wanted to win gold in London, and she got two silvers, so she is still chasing this dream. 

 “In 2012 Mireia got better as week went on, and  Rio will be a repetition of the same sequence of events as London.  So the question is how do we stimulate the 400IM a couple of days before the race which on day one at the Olympics?  Do we do a meet a couple of days before, which makes the Games a ten day meet?  Maybe it could work and we are looking at that now.  Also, I am convinced that she needs to improve her speed.  Her 400IM times come down by being a faster swimmer.  And at this level it is more and more about the mental aspect.  She does mental preparation every day and we are working on being ready from day one, rather than panicking after four events, thinking there are only two left in the last two days.  In Rio, everything has to be ready on day one.

 “Every season that goes by my job is to think long term, to show her the way, explain what we can improve.  She’s very professional, always first at the pool, always the last to leave, she does what it takes.  For coach it’s a big thing to coach this type of swimmer.  We invest a lot in training , a lot of volume, go to altitude, and we are away almost half the season, it’s a full investment, and for me I have a high respect for athletes like Mireia who step up and want to be as a swimmer where I want them to be myself as a coach.

 “As a coach and a person I have learned more and more that we are human.  I am known for being tough and a bit inflexible and doing what I have to do to get the best out of a swimmer.  I have been lucky in Sabadell, then with the national team, now in San Cougat I try to enjoy it more now than I used to.  That it is possible to win medals and break records and be happy.  That is new for me.  It’s a crazy life, a swim coach, so now I enjoy far more being on deck every day, and being with the guys on a daily basis.

 “What drives me as a coach is being with the athletes.  We spend 8 hours together every day, it’s more than your family.  My daughter will be 5 and I have never been at her birthday, we are always on camp.  It’s a choice I made.  I am lucky to have an ex-swimmer as wife (Alena Popchanka), so she understands and supports me, so that I can do what I need to do as a coach.  Whenever I go to the pool, I think, wow, this is a great place to be, and it is great to be able to share this part of this person’s swimming career.  Maybe it is one year, maybe it is eight years, but sharing this part of this person’s life, this is what I love about the job.  Sharing these moments.

 “ My advice to young coaches is that they need to see swimming and coaching as a science project.  You need to travel.  You need to leave and see abroad for a year or two, then come back even more convinced of your ideas and put in practice what you’ve learned.  Always be learning.  We learn every day.  Tomorrow I hope to be a better coach than today.  Keep an open mind.  Go to bed every night with something new in your mind.  Every day it’s more and more of a challenge to go to bed with something new in your mind, but I guess that’s the way to do it.  That’s the way to improve and to be better.”

 James Parrack is a Eurosport swimming commentator and co-founder of the BEST Swim Centre, Mallorca.