Álvaro Robles, from ‘ugly duckling’ to the Olympic Games: “I spent many years without knowing where to shoot”

“I’m Álvaro Robles, from table tennis,” Álvaro tells the security manager of the High Performance Center (CAR) so that he can open the lathes for him. “They come with me,” he adds, pointing to the journalist and photographer. It’s Friday, it’s five o’clock in the afternoon and except in the badminton hall, there isn’t a soul on the premises. Álvaro carries the keys to access the table tennis room: the coolest place in the CAR, as it is in a kind of basement under the covered athletics track which is accessed by going down some stairs. It must be 10 degrees warmer outside.

There are eight garish blue tables and the red floor just as garish; colors chosen so that they differ from the ball that is white. Álvaro (Huelva, 30 years old) turns on all the lights and shows what his home Since three years ago. The CSD built this 750-square-meter space on the commitment of the Spanish athlete who has just qualified for the Tokyo Games. Before, players trained in a multipurpose area where they had to remove and set the tables every day and without the ideal lighting. Robles is the third Spanish – not nationalized – to qualify for the Olympic event after Alfredo Carnero (Beijing 2008) and Carlos Machado (London 2012).

“I have been a headache for the Federation … sometimes they listened to me and many others not,” he says, acknowledging that he became very heavy with this issue. He did it so that the recruitment of talents was done with time and so that young people who are starting would have the right place to develop, grow and improve. He had to go to Germany at the age of 21, with nothing in his pocket and without knowing a word of German. Germany is the promised land for any table tennis player, one of the leading countries in this sport. Álvaro went there to be a professional player; otherwise it would not have arrived. Due to lack of infrastructure, level colleagues and work system. Since he left, he says, there hasn’t been a single day that he hasn’t woke up thinking about his dream: qualifying for the Games. He has achieved this in a sport that has 12,570 licenses (20 years ago they barely exceeded 5,000).

He landed in Ochsenhausen, a small town of 8,000 inhabitants in Bavaria. He made pineapple with a Croatian, French, English, Brazilian. “All of us who were there, we went with the same objective.” To get better. 7,000 euros was the annual cost of the center. He earned 300 euros per month the first year … The minimum wage (20,000) began to be charged when he rose to the First Division league. “It was hard for me at first to feel part of that group because it was the worst, there were people of a high level, much more than mine. There was even a Korean who had been Olympic champion in Athens 2004. I was out of place and it took me two years to feel part of that group. I stayed there for six years, after the third it was the milk, ”he says in the deserted room of the CAR at 5 in the afternoon. He was vaccinated in the morning and the physical trainer advised him to rest for a couple of days so that the immune system, which is already fighting the bug, do not weaken.

Who helped you not to throw in the towel those first two years? “A coach that I still keep in touch with was my guide there. He had the ability to read my mind and at every moment he told me exactly what I needed for that moment. Hit the key. I was wondering: ‘what is your identity? It made you think, he wanted me to gain confidence in who he was, where he came from and why he was there ”, he replies. “Everyone else had their shirts on sponsorI didn’t have a sponsor, I was going to train with what I had. He pulled contacts and got me a bunch and gave them to me. He took me to eat, he listened to me. I really value what he did because the first were years without results, they were years of only work and training, of trying to occupy a position, of making a place for myself. The results have come in the last 3-4; the others were from being a bit lost, from a lot of searching, from trial and error, from not knowing where to go. And when things start to go well for you, it seems that bad things are erased, I don’t really know why ”, he reflects.

He learned technique and tactics based on work, hours and hours of training, without anyone explaining to him that it was an “investment of effort”, as he calls it, and that one day he would reap the benefits. The first reward came in the form of world silver (the first Spanish table tennis player to achieve it) in doubles in 2019. And it has also come in the form of an Olympic qualification. This cycle has been prepared almost completely at the CAR in Madrid.

“In Germany I had an intensive with a lot of training, of soaking up everything. But there was one more, me they used put it in some way. Was a sparring for the good players there. The objective of coming to the CAR in Madrid was to use everything I learned there to my advantage ”, he explains while assuring that in Germany, for example, there were no physios, nor a psychologist. He took advantage of each trip to Spain to meet with the sports director of the Federation.

“I expressed concerns to implement in Madrid everything that could be improved that I saw in Germany. In the end, due to my insistence, ambition and being very heavy, what I have been asking for for a long time is being done with the youngest. Take them early so that they come to a high-performance center, teach them that the beginning is hard, that they have to combine it with their studies and that they don’t have time for anything else. Educate them so that when they are 17-18 years old they are already aware of what awaits them, so that at least they know what there is. I never knew, if I knew about it and had a center like this, with planning, I would have saved a lot of time ”, he confesses.

Álvaro, who will be a father in September, says that he has not known what it is to take a month of vacation since he was 15 years old. The biggest whim that is granted is to disconnect 2-3 days after very intense months of training. “To reset, for the body to regenerate because if the machine does not start to not work, physically you start not being so precise, the demand you cannot follow and mentally you burn out.”

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