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Tales From Behind The Sequins In Spain

Sep 26, 2012  - Craig Lord

Not normally out beat the fair but fit world of synchronised swimming but accusations of verbal abuse by a woman head coach in Spain are hard to ignore.

  • "Get out of the water, fat ass! Go to the psychologist!"
  • "Stop being such a prude. You've fuxxed everything that moves..." 

El Pais reports today that 15 former Spain team members have attributed such outbursts to the former coach of the national squad, Anna Tarrés.

The Spanish federation recently decided not to renew their contract with Tarrés. The allegations are made in a letter of complaint dated September 22 and signed by the 15 former team members. 

They story took flight after TV station La Sexta announced the new coaching staff for the synchro swimmers, the absence of the key figure on the deck raising questions in the national media.

The document was then leaked. It contains four letters under the title: "When you can avoid a wrongdoing, it's stupid to accept it."

On the final two pages, under the heading "Personal experiences", a list of traumatic events allegedly endured by the swimmers at the high performance centre in Sant Cugat, Barcelona, include an allegation that the coach told a swimmer who suffered from bulimia: "I'm sure you looked good in figures but as you're so fat I can't spoil the look of the team."

Ana Violán, a team member until 2007, alleges that after five hours of training one day she asked Tarrés if she could leave the water to vomit. Tarrés is reported to have replied: "No! Swallow it, you still have an hour-and-a-half left! If you don't, go home and don't come back."

Laura López Valle alleges that Tarrés told her not to go to receive a medal of Sporting Order of Merit bestowed on the team for its silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympics because she was inferior to her teammates.

Among the other signatories to the document are Eva Zhdanova, Cristina and Carla Violán, Neus Seguí, Jordina Pallarols, Julia Casal, Itziar Aspe, Clara Oyonarte and Itahisa Robaina. Four others remained anonymous.

"Today we have decided to unite to tell our story," write the 15. "To bring to light all the things that up to now have remained hidden behind the medals." The signatories apologise for leaving it until the coach was no longer in their midst, stating: "We must assume part of the blame … in some way, we came to believe that Anna was an immovable figure … you were either with her or against her, and to be against her meant kissing your career goodbye."

The swimmers say that they tried "years ago" to complain to authorities but their words fell on deaf ears. Tarrés had been in charge since 1997. Under her direction, Spain won four Olympic medals (three silver and a bronze), 26 world championship medals (one gold, 14 silver and 11 bronze) and 25 European medals (three gold, 15 silver and seven bronze.) In London 2012, her regime helped to produce silver and bronze medals on the way to a home FINA World Aquatics Championships next year in Barcelona. 

The federation said that its decision not to renew Tarrés' contract was due to "strictly professional reasons and ones of sporting policy." Tarrés has been replaced by former team member Ana Montero, who took 4th place in the Athens Olympics in 2004. 

The most successful synchro swimmer ever from Spain, Gemma Mengual, winner of 39 international medals over 20 years, will also be a member of the new technical team in Spain.

Carlos Touriño, president of the Galician swim federation and one of the key figures guiding synchronised swimming in Spain, came to the defence of  Tarrés in an interview with La Voz de Galicia. He told the paper: "Anna has fixed ideas. For her, there are no grey areas: its black or white. But I do not believe she is capable of having said the things they claim she said. The thought does not even cross my mind, unless it such things were said in the heat of the moment … she would not have said such things under normal circumstances."

Fernando Carpena, the president of the RFEN (Spanish federation, responded to the letter from the 15 by denying any knowledge of the supposed bullying and verbal abuse. The claims, he noted, date back to before his time in office, from 2008.

"I have no knowledge of these events. They happened before our leadership," he said. "The Federation thanks Anna for her services. The decision not to renew her contract was strictly a sporting one."

Carpena confirmed that the federation would "listen internally to the people involved, and establish if their claims are true or not."

Tarrés , a Barcelona native who competed at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, has yet to respond in full to the allegations but was quoted as saying that her "conscience is very clear".