Montreal 2014, Synchro: Olympian Paola Tirados makes joyful debut at Masters
Six years ago, she was claiming Spain's first Olympic silverware at the Beijing Games in the team event. Today, world-class synchro swimmer Paola Tirados also climbed the podium for a second-place finish in the solo at the 15th FINA World Masters Championships in Montreal, Canada, and that medal tasted no less sweeter.
The three-time Olympian from 2000, 2004 and 2008, whose remarkable tally include nine world medals (six silver and 3 bronze), retired in 2009, before the FINA World Championships in Rome, and never dipped a toe in a pool again... until three weeks ago.
"I was so fed up with training, I did not want to hear about it anymore."
Tirados, now 34, moved from Spain to New York City seven months ago with her husband, an Olympian in sailing from the 2004 Athens Games, to start a new life. She's part of the newly-created club Imagine Synchro, where she coaches youngsters.
Tirados offered a delightful show to the Masters' public - credit: Corey Narsted/CM Images
Her presence in Montreal was totally unexpected, being encouraged by her husband to take part for the first time in the Championships at the last minute. Tirados accepted because she "missed the sport, not the competition."
"I want to enjoy synchro and the best place is the Masters World Championships," she added, with a smile.
"Coming here I was a bit scared but at the end, I loved it. The competition here is so different, people just enjoy it, there's no pressure."
Top-level coach Mayuko Fujiki from Japan, who trained the Spanish team from 2000 to 2010 and at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona last year, was on-hand to coach Tirados today.
Her solo theme song? Birds chirping - credit: Corey Narsted/CM Images
"She's different: the way she's getting in the water, I've never seen her like this! When you train at elite level, you kind of forget the fun, how much you enjoy your sport. At Masters, you feel this joy again."
"Many swimmers retire not in a great way, they don't know what to do. To keep competing at Masters shows how much you love the sport," Fujiki continued.
The first thing that struck the Japanese coach was the atmosphere: "The way swimmers are between them, it really feels like a family."
At midday, heavy showers started to flood the Parc Jean-Drapeau's outdoor Aquatic complex and competitions were put on hold for about an hour. Yet, swimmers in warm-up pools did not get out of the water right away.
"It was pouring rain and I saw none of these swimmers complaining. An elite swimmer would not have stayed in the water," Fujiki noted.
Paola Tirados and Mayuko Fujiki, stunning after receiving the 30-39 Age Group solo silver - credit: Delphine Schmutz/FINA
"They're here because they want to, they make sacrifices. They come here, taking days off, most without a coach. I know a swimmer who hired a cameraman to film her routines at training. I mean, it's a passion!"
Tirados watched the older age groups competing in the morning and said, quivering with joy: "That's incredible. I want to be like them at 80 and still be competing!"