Maria Pelaez: from the pool to Planet Water!
On that August 24, 1997 it was also hot in Seville. A dry warm weather compared with the humid and boiling atmosphere in Barcelona, six days before the start of the 15th FINA World Championships 2013. Almost 16 years separate the two moments, but one person links them: Maria Pelaez. On that Sunday, covering the European Championships in Andalucia, I was surprised, like many other journalists, with the astonishing victory of the 19-year-old butterfly star from Malaga in the 200m, in a fast time of 2:10.25.
It was the first continental success ever for a Spanish female swimmer, and the highlight of a long career, spanning from 1992 until 2010. On this July 13, 2013 I met the same smiling Maria in the accreditation centre, where she is in charge of communication with the delegations of the 181 nations (a new record) entered for the FINA World Championships in Barcelona.
From the main stage of sport, she is now coordinating the behind-the-scene action, with that same satisfaction and pleasure. She is one of the busiest members of the organisation, and surely the most notable member of the “Planet Water” (the motto of the Championships) crew:
“When you compete, you just care about the swimming pool, if everything is OK with the timing system… Now, in this position, I can definitively see how things behind such an organisation are complex. It’s a big world, comprising nations that come here to play a major role in the competition, while for others the simple fact of participating is already an achievement”, considers Pelaez.
Retired from the pools since December 2010 – her career spans over 18 years, after participating in five Olympic Games (she was the youngest Spanish athlete in Barcelona 1992, at only 14), winning several European medals and more than 50 national titles -, she then worked with the Spanish Olympic Committee in the promotion of Sport values and education. In July 2012, she was chosen as one of the Barcelona 2013 Ambassadors, as she was also invited to join the Organising Committee. “I am very pleased with what I am doing. I hold a degree in Physical Education, and my natural evolution would be coaching, but after my experience here in Barcelona, I may decide to continue in the sports management area”, adds Pelaez.
“After such a long career, I could have suffered from depression after retirement, but in my case, everything went quite normal. It’s a new chapter in my life, and I feel well in this field”.
Maria Pelaez remains a great follower of the sport she loves: “I was worried in 2008, when the new swimsuits were introduced; they were definitively giving a new sensation to the swimmers in the water! When the rules have changed again in 2010, I thought the records would remain unbeaten for many years, but the reality showed that I was wrong: with or without the ‘technological’ swimsuits, swimming continues to evolve. One example of this progress is the growing number of different nations getting medals at major competitions”, she says.
Maria Pelaez ready to welcome 181 nations at the Worlds 2013 in Barcelona
On the Barcelona rendezvous, Pelaez predicts: “Of course the US will be the nation to beat, but many others have good and talented swimmers: Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and even Australia, who is now having some difficulties, but has always a good reserve behind”. On Spain’s performances, she is optimistic:
“Melanie Costa is swimming very strong, but we have of course high hopes on Mireia [Belmonte]. Aschwin [Wildeboer] and Rafa Muñoz can also be in the finals. Then, of course the synchro girls and the two teams in water polo. I believe Barcelona will be a good competition for our athletes”, concludes Pelaez.