Mari Pau Corominas. So, by her first and last name, and not grandmother, she calls her one of her six grandchildren. And among his three children, they have just given him a replica of the swimsuit he wore 50 years ago at the Alberca Francisco Márquez. "A cute one, with the letters Mexico 68 and behind my name. I put it on this morning, "she explains enthusiastically. He was then 16 years old and in those Games he marked a milestone in the impoverished and misogynist Spanish sport of the Franco dictatorship. She was the first Spaniard to compete in an Olympic final, the 200 meters back (seventh), and one of only two women, along with Pilar Von Carstenn, among the 128 Spaniards who competed in Mexico 68. She celebrated it in advance when completing the Crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar last May – "It took us four hours and a minute to travel 15.2 kilometers and we raised 7,000 euros for the NGO Proactiva Open Arms," he explains. "I think the final of the Games was swamped on October 25," said the 66-year-old from Barcelona.
Question. The fact of competing in a Games already was a milestone for Spanish athletes.
Answer. My career was short. I started at the end of 64. The second year I was champion of Spain, European junior champion and gold in the Mediterranean. Mexico 68 they were the first Games in which they demanded a minimum mark. I got it in July, in the university pool of Madrid. In Spain I had no rivals. I got it by myself. Actually, it was a bit to the Quixote, as happened later with other athletes such as Blanca Fernández Ochoa and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario.
P. Did it cause problems to be one of only two women in the expedition of 128 athletes?
R. They said: 'We do not want her to go alone. Let's give the opportunity to another swimmer to accompany Paz '. And Pilar Von Carstenn, a swimmer of crol, came with me. They took good care of us So that we were more accompanied they put us in an apartment with some Argentine girls, I think of hockey, but it did not work. They were having some fun … We asked for an apartment for ourselves. We were a little bit the spoiled girls of the team.
P. It was a pioneer …
R. Well yes, pioneer, but hopefully. If I had not had the ease I had to swim I would have left it even sooner, but I found myself involved in elite sport. I went to the Games thinking only of participating, and nothing else. But getting to a final was already big words. There, being so young, I did not see that it could be historical. I was not aware of it until I returned to Spain.
P. Why does it highlight so much about luck?
R. For example, I swam at CN Sabadell, the first club with an indoor pool with heated water and also the first one with a foreign coach, Dutch. I had very good coaches. And, speaking of the Games, we moved to Mexico one month earlier and had five weeks to adapt. It was basic. We had time to adapt to the altitude (2,240 meters above sea level). Other swimmers who beat us were not acclimatized.
P. How was the competition?
R. The altitude causes that the one that is not adapted makes worse time in the tests that last more than a minute. In the fast ones it goes well, and in athletics you have less resistance. I was used to skiing with my family. That's why I qualified for the final. I won swimmers who had more options than me. I beat the European champion, the French Christine Caron. In the final, the truth, I felt pretty tiny next to the Americans, the Russians, the Germans … They imposed me. It gave me the feeling that I was not ready like them and, of course, I did not have his size.
P. Ten days before the start of the Games there was the Slaughter of the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. Did you fear for your safety?
R. We learn second. We knew that they had killed some student, but we did not know the seriousness of what happened until much later. They had three days in the Olympic Village without being able to leave, but they never explained what had happened. I was not conscious until I returned to Spain. The Games were about to be suspended, but all the athletes were already in Mexico and in the end it was decided to celebrate. They put us police in the Olympic Village. I did not get scared. At age 16 you are not very aware of whether that would go further.
P. Why did you retire at 18?
R. We were absolutely amateurs, in love with what we did, but with zero economic compensation. I wanted to retire and I retired. No one asked me to continue, no one suggested an economic issue or to be able to study a career outside. It is true that the six months in the United States were paid by me Superior Sports Council, although my father had to advance the money. I keep with love the watch that Juan Antonio Samaranch gave me when I won the gold medal of the Tunisian Mediterraneans.
P. Did your life change being the first Spanish Olympic finalist?
R. I continued swimming for two more years. They called me, I went out in the newspapers, I had to be the perfect girl. It was an absurd pressure. The next year it cost me a lot. I wanted to start a university career and it was impossible to combine studies and sports. After the first course in Economics, I told Santiago Esteva, who was in the United States: 'Hey, find me something, to see if I can come'. And I went to Indiana, to Bloomington. I was six months. There I just swam. I progressed When I returned, with so much accumulated training, I broke the Spanish records of 400 free, 800 free, 4×100 styles …
P. Despite the successes of Spanish athletes, are there still many barriers to overcome?
R. I have never been very feminist. Shrieking we get less, doing we get more. We were two in a list of 128. In Rio, the Spanish were 43% of the expedition and got more medals than men (9 of the 17 obtained). There is very little left. It is true that at a salary level, we always have it badly, always. There we have to improve. And there are hardly any directives, but it's because we do not like it. I have it very clear. But I take my hat off what Spanish athletes are getting. And they will continue to achieve extraordinary marks.