With the 2012 Olympics at the midway stage there is little doubt already that at an individual level Mireia Belmonte will head the televised retrospectives in years to come. Of the three medals accrued by Spain thus far in London, two have come from the Badalona-born swimmer; silver in the 200m butterfly and the 800m freestyle.
In the former, Belmonte exploded from the blocks and led for much of the race, finally succumbing to the irresistible attack of 2008 silver medalist Jiao Liuyang, who broke the Olympic record in the event in catching the Spaniard.
In the 800m freestyle, Belmonte staged a magnificent comeback from fifth at the halfway mark to chase down both Lotte Friis and Rebecca Adlington, the 2008 bronze and gold medalists, respectively, powering to second place behind 15-year-old US sensation Katie Ledecky.
Both races proved that Belmonte, who failed to reach her potential at the 2011 Shanghai World Championships and whose own coach, Fred Vergnoux, said before the Games lacks faith when going one-on-one with the best in the world, has shaken that self-doubt. Part of the reason is the grueling physical preparation she undergoes.
“I’ve been swimming 120 kilometers in a week, which before I thought was impossible,” she said. “A normal day can start with a warm-up of 2,000 meters, then a block of 6,400 working my arms, on styles, a little with the feet and then rest. Later, 8,800 intense meters and then some gym work, which can be weights, exercises for the torso or running. Since 2011, I have been running more than ever. I think every athlete has to run because it the basis of aerobic resistance.”
“Physical strength gives you mental assuredness,” said Vergnoux. “We do sessions of two and a half hours a day. She is stronger. That helps a lot. Mireia’s physique is a lot better than two years ago. She is stronger in the gym, in the water and as a person.”
However, the physical toll of the 800m should not be underestimated, making Belmonte’s epic fightback all the more satisfying: “I gave so much in the final 100 meters that my shoulders hurt and I felt like vomiting,” she said after receiving her medal. But that’s why I like swimming — it gives back everything you put in.”