She is the best ever Spanish swimmer; the first woman swimmer who has become Olympic champion; the first woman to be able to break 8 mins in 800 m freestyle and 2 mins in 200 m butterfly; she won more than 40 medals in big international competitions. There is only one thing missing from her trophy cabinet: she has never won long-course world championships. Her aim is to complete it in Budapest.
Mireia owes her swimming career to a conscientious physician who sent her to swim at the age of 4 to treat her scoliosis. Who knows where she would be now otherwise? The beginnings were hard, since she was allergic to chloride and indeed struggling with asthma.
‘My parents are very diligent, their example taught me that achievement requires hard work and effort” she said in an interview. Her dedication and diligence soon became apparent: at the age of 12 she won 6 national championships title and at 15 – coincidentally in Rio – she became 2-time junior world champion. She was given the ‘Lion of Badalona’ nickname for her competitiveness and fighting spirit (with reference to her hometown).
At the age of 17 she won 400 m medley in the European Championships held in Debrecen. Since then she started to gain medals at almost all international competitions. She excelled mostly in short course, but could not complain about her results in long course either.
Among Spanish swimmers she was the first to get two medals in an Olympics when she finished second both in 800 m freestyle and 200 m butterfly in London, and she was immediately awarded as the Woman Athlete of the Year in Spain. In Rio she went further, gaining two medals again, but this time a gold and a bronze. First, she won the first medal of the Spanish delegates in Rio, when she could step on the podium next to Katinka Hosszú in 400 m medley, then in 200 m butterfly finally she could fulfil her dream. She became Olympic champion – as the first Spanish woman swimmer.
Her coach, the French Fred Vergnoux cried when his coachee won the Olympics, still he admitted that she had not been the most talented swimmer in the Spanish team, however through hard work and passion she could outshine the others. She trained 9 hours per day, seven days per week except for some Sundays.
Although she was the shortest in the 200 m butterfly final in Rio, she could rise above everybody. ‘This girl is crazy! She said that she would make it and she really did’ Vergnoux said about her after the race.
The Olympic championships brought enormous fame and recognition to Mireia, firstly in Spain. She appeared on cover pages of popular magazines, was invited as a guest to TV programmes and even the Spanish royal couple was glad to appear with her smiling in photos in Rio.
According to a survey from last year she is one of the three women of the greatest impact on 6-12-year-old children in Spain. Beside her a popular Spanish journalist, Irene Villa and Michelle Obama, the American ex-First Lady were chosen into the top3. Disney asked 700 parents about the opinion of their children on what characteristics make ’modern princesses’ who help young girls to trust themselves and achieve their dreams.
Mireia’s responsibility is huge and so is the pressure she put on herself, since she has set herself no smaller goal than winning a gold at the Budapest world championships in July.
Mireia Belmonte Garcia:
Born: 10th November 1990
Oympics: 1 gold (200 m butterfly – Rio); 2 silver (800 m freestyle and 200 m butterfly – London); 1 bronze (400 m medley - Rio)
World Championships: long course – 2 silver (200 m butterfly and 400 m medley – Barcelona), 1 bronze (200 m medley – Barcelona); short course – 7 gold (200 m butterfly, 200m and 400 m medley – Dubai, 200m butterfly, 400 m medley, 400 m and 800 m freestyle – Doha)
European Championships (long course): 4 gold (200 m butterfly – Eindhoven, 1500 m freestyle – Debrecen, 200 m butterfly and 1500 m freestyle – Berlin)