January 22, 2022 4:56 pm

A definitive leap for Spanish curling



Without getting to the eccentricity of the Jamaican bobsleigh team, talking about curling It implies making it one of the most minority sports practiced in Spain, with just 200 licenses and not a single exclusive track on which to train. Even someone really interested in learning the discipline would have a hard time finding one of the ten clubs that are currently active. Even more surprising is that, despite the small size of its ecosystem and the obvious obstacles, Spain can boast of two world medals (bronze in mixed doubles in 2014 and silver in mixed teams in 2018), successes whose proportion does not correspond to everything what was written above. Still something is missing, the Olympic dream.

Spain has never sent a curling team to a Games, and this weekend it is facing the historic opportunity of having the first of them in Beijing 2022. There are two places to be awarded, and the mixed doubles team formed by Oihane Otaegi and Mikel Unanue will try to catch one of them in a very tough tournament to which fourteen teams are called up in Leeuwarden (Netherlands).

Spain, in group A, will have to face Russia, Hungary, Germany, Denmark, Turkey and Australia. If the group is won, the Olympic ticket will be played to a card against the winner of the other group. If not, you have to finish second or third to contest the last place in a playoff. “It may be an even tougher competition than the Games themselves,” Mikel Unanue tells ABC, aware of the difficulty of the task ahead, but excited about the possibility of hitting the ground running. “I don’t like to talk about how many options we have, because it puts added pressure on us and we still generate expectations that later generate frustration. We are eager to do our job in the best possible way and focused on the goal. We have to thank our coach, David Wills. He has come from Canada leaving many things there and believing in a project as complicated as ours. Together with him we have made a very beautiful path. We have the feeling that everything is going to be fine.

“It took me a lot to understand what was going on, and at first I didn’t win a game”

Otaegi (San Sebastián, 1977) and Unanue (San Sebastián, 1982), the protagonists of this major challenge, make up the elite of Spanish curling. They were part, along with Leire Otaegi (Oihane’s twin sister) and Sergio Vez, of the team that won that historic world team silver three years ago in the Canadian city of Kelowna, where only the host could beat them in the final. That milestone was a turning point for someone who, like them, had started from scratch. In 2005 Oihane was a physical trainer for the skating team at the Txuri-Urdin Ice Palace, in San Sebastián. There he came across some stones that had been left from the International Federation and decided to try. “It was very difficult for me to understand what he was about, and at first I didn’t win a game.” Mikel, who comes from swimming, got hooked shortly after, in 2008, so as not to be left out of his girlfriend’s activities. Because yes, in addition to teammates, Otaegi and Unanue are a couple. “I start from the absolute and unpretentious ignorance.” “We have been climbing steps little by little,” concludes Oihane. «First, getting a medal. Then at the national level. We have already been fortunate to represent our country abroad and the Games are the next step.

No holidays

All that road has not been easy. Until the first victories came, they were years of great sacrifices. “For years curling has taken away all our free time and we have had to dedicate a lot of resources and money,” explains Unanue. “Reaching this level means mortgaging the time that others spend with friends and family,” says Otaegi. “You always miss having a real vacation. I don’t remember the last time we were away for four days.

Oihane Otaegi and Mikel Unanue
Oihane Otaegi and Mikel Unanue – WCF

Today the situation is different. Thanks to their achievements, they are part of the Basque Team, which gives them a series of facilities as elite athletes. «We feel privileged from the aid we receive: the City Council, the Provincial Council, the Basque Government or the Basque and Spanish Federations. Without them it would have been impossible.

The harmony between Otaegi and Unanue it is almost perfect, but still there is a point of friction between them that resonates in the parting. Does being a couple help or hurt when competing? They do not agree. “This is like a knife, depending on what you use it for, it helps or can be very dangerous,” Mikel describes. “Sport has helped us to know each other much more, to see that we are full of peculiarities and that we are very different. In the end I think that being together is beneficial. I would never have enjoyed this sport so much if it hadn’t been with her by my side. ” Oihane hesitates a bit more: «What may seem like an advantage in our case was a small handicap. It is something that we have worked on a lot. From here I thank our psychologist. Besides helping us in the mental field for the competition, it helped us to fit our personalities and optimize our way of understanding the game.

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