Discover Masters World: Olga Larissa Vargas (MEX)
Two months ago, Olga Vargas from Mexico did not know whether she would be able to compete at the FINA Masters World championships or not. Like some others, the economical aspect almost jeopardised her Masters participation. Today, the 30-year-old leaves with happy memories from Gothenburg having bagged two gold medals, one in Solo and another in Duet, with swimming partner and long-time friend Nara Lorena Falcon.
Background: an early start
As a matter of fact, Olga’s success finds its roots in a former elite career, which stretches from 1997 to 2004. Before getting started with synchro at 11, Olga had already six years of gymnastics under her belt!
One day, a synchro coach sees her at the gymnastics club and invites her to the pool. The pool is far from her home so she starts going only on Saturdays. Her mother is a little reluctant because she is still young. The coach keeps on insisting and eventually, Olga’s mother accepts to have her daughter training full time.As a child, Olga watched the sport at the Olympics on television; she liked it because she had always been keen to swim... and she became even more enthusiastic when she started training.
The Olympic journey
Olga enters Mexico’s national synchro team in 1997. Two years later, she leaves the team to devote herself to studying and dancing. She then returns to the national team in 2001, to later compete at the Central American and Caribbean Games in El Salvador (2002) and at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona (2003), where Mexico places 15th in Team, 19th in Duet and 17th in Solo. The highlight of her career is definitely the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where she finishes 16th in Duet.
Her eyes sparkle when recalling her incredible Olympic venture: “It’s amazing! It’s very hard work but to compete at the Olympics is an amazing experience,” she says with a smile that lights up her face.
After the 2004 Olympics, Olga stops everything. Seven years of intense practice and total commitment to the sport got the better of her, she admits: “It is very difficult because I was 25 at the time and I also wanted independence and other things, and it is very hard to be training eight, nine hours a day for the whole year, that’s why I quit afterwards.”
Retrospectively, the Mexican knows it was an enriching experience: “It was hard to compete at elite level; you learn a lot of things with the years and now I am more mature.”
In and out the pool
Professionally, Olga has been working as a physical education teacher, training young girls at schools, also outside Mexico City, in Cancun, Monterrey, and other cities. She became a flight attendant for a while but after a few months, she started missing the sport terribly: “Even if that was only for one or two days a week, but I had to swim!” she recalls.
Olga quit her job last December and has since been engaged in coaching. She is very into it and loves working with kids. Some girls choose synchro, unsuspecting how demanding the sport is. But in the water, Olga knows it’s a different story: “The little girls I coach say ‘I’m tired, I thought that was easy!’.” “People don’t realise how much effort you need to put into this,” she notes. And true to the coaching spirit, she motivates her young synchro divas with a tight “keep going!” “Girls want to have a nice time and do some exercise,” she continues.
Presently, together with two other coaches (including duet partner Nara), Olga manages a team of more than 30 synchro swimmers, aged 9-10. In some of them, she already sees real prospects for future success: “Some girls are really motivated so we try to see more or less who really wants to have more discipline, who may be in the national team in the future; we give special attention to those girls.”
Olga Vargas (MEX) - credit: Sarah Chiarello
Having fun at Masters
The good thing about being a Masters synchro swimmer is that there is more room for fun and less for pressure, the Mexican reflects: “Masters are more about friendship and socialising; we don’t necessarily think about winning when we swim.”
Why are World Masters interesting? “Because you see the sport in a different way; it’s more for fun! In my career, I have never experienced this because there was always a lot of pressure, and I was not by myself,” she rightfully asserts, adding: “Now I see synchro in a different perspective.” Furthermore, self-management and independence are two advantages that she most certainly appreciates: “I am enjoying it much more than before; I also build my routines myself.”
To Olga, time is not an enemy: “I’ll be happy with the level at which I can be!” Synchronised swimming, along with other activities, make her feel in shape: “I like very much to do exercise, yoga, keeping good body flexibility; I love it and I don’t think I will stop doing this.”
Make it happen in Mexico
In Gothenburg, Olga is competing at her first World Masters and while the Masters movement has not been embedded in her home country yet, she hopes her success will help boost the development of such programmes in the future: “We thought maybe if we collect good results, we will get more support and our teammates might want to continue competing as well.”
Olga’s example also shows that Masters at the international level is a very good option for former Olympic athletes not only to continue competing at a significant level, but also to look at their sport in a new way, with more fun and many friends from around the world.