“There are people for whom it works to practice swimming as if it were a solitary job,” says Hugo González de Oliveira. “For me it is much easier to approach it as a team game, with people who you love and who support you, seeking to improve everyone’s results, not just yours.”
The reflection of the triple Spanish medalist of the Europeans that concluded yesterday in Budapest points to what for many is the central dilemma of swimming in Spain. If the country with the most water and the most sun on the continent is the one that produces the fewest elite swimmers, it is not because of a lack of material resources but because team sports better adjust to the prevailing socio-cultural character. In Spain, first level swimming has been a thing of solitary adventurers. Gifted who ended up isolating or emigrating.
Hugo González emigrated to the United States. After a year of experimentation in Auburn (Alabama), in 2019 he settled at the University of California, Berkeley. There he trains with the group that brings together the best university-class swimmers. “Being on the California team has basically given me a relationship of friends and teamwork,” he says by phone. “Despite coming to Budapest, I feel that the team is with me. That pushes me to compete and motivates me when I have doubts ”.
The American university circuit, which imposes a tight schedule of 25-yard (23-meter) pool races, has changed the profile of the 22-year-old Spaniard. If before he managed better in 200 and 400 meter events, in Budapest he shone in tests that tip the balance on power: he was bronze in 50 backstroke, silver in 100 backstroke and gold in 200 styles. “I always swam a mix of everything,” he says. “In my last Junior World Cup I was second in 50 backstroke and won gold in 100. What happens is that in the United States I have perfected short distances because university competitions are in yards, and they are much more explosive than competitions in the long pool. . Even if I kept the same training routine, just by competing in the 25-yard pool you improve the underwater swimming, the turns and the exits, which are key in short tests and not so much in long ones ”.
The ability to measure himself in specific sessions with the best bracistas, libristas, espaldistas and mariposistas of California has given him the necessary impulse to break more psychological than physical barriers. The gold in 200 meters styles, achieved in 1m 56.76s, was the confirmation. “My best mark until the European was 1m58s”, he says, recalling a time that he had not been able to cut since 2018. “The key to raising my level of competition has been the confidence that gives me training day by day with people who are better than me. . In the end it becomes routine. And when I have to travel to a European and, for example, compete with Duncan Scott, who has the best record of the year, it is not so difficult mentally ”.
Ryan Murphy, 100 backstroke world record holder, Nathan Adrian, holder of the 16th best record ever in 100 freestyle, sprinter Ryan Hoffer and all-rounder Andrew Seliskar, college 200-yard freestyle champion, are some of the teammates whose wave is Hugo González rose. “We have many people who swim very well many styles,” says the swimmer. “That helps to think that if you are training with them every day and you see them doing silly things, in competitions you are not going to be far behind.”
Spanish swimming had run dry on the threshold of the Games. With no news from Mireia Belmonte two months before the start of the Olympic championship, scheduled for July 24 in Tokyo, the team crossed their fingers to the Europeans. In addition to recruiting swimmers with minimum qualification marks, the prestige of the team depended on the appearance of a virtuoso capable of swimming in times that would allow them to aspire to one of the 35 Olympic podiums. Something common in countries like Great Britain, France, Italy, Hungary or Russia, but always arduous in Spain.
Hugo González sported an ambiguous track record: dazzling junior brands and outright dating disappointments. In Budapest he broke the inertia with a competitive claw that can make him the leader of the Tokyo team.
Kristof Milak put his stamp on the closing of the Swimming Europeans. When it came to Budapest, the Danube Arena, his territory, the Hungarian showed signs of impatience. Unhappy with his preliminary and semi-final marks, he threw himself into the 100-meter butterfly final as if there were no tomorrow. He flew in the first 50 (23.58 seconds) and held the pace in the second to hit the wall in 50.18s. Nothing less than the second best brand of all time with a textile swimsuit. A feat that at the age of 21 places him in an inhospitable atmosphere for anyone except the American Caeleb Dressel, who, under pressure as never before, beat him in the 2019 World Cups with the absolute record: 49.50s.
Milak threw his glove. Dressel is formally cited at the Tokyo Games. Neither of them will be able to neglect the threat of a third man. This is the Bulgarian Josif Miladinov, who at only 17 years old was silver in Budapest with 50.93s, the 13th best brand in history in textile swimsuits.