MADRID (Reuters) - Javier Gomez Noya fought a six-year battle with Spain’s sporting authorities over a heart condition and he is now favorite to win a triathlon gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.
“I have overcome a lot of obstacles. Some people have helped me, others haven’t. I can’t forget what has happened but I want to look forward, I don’t want wars with anyone,” the 25-year-old world champion told Reuters in an interview.
Gomez Noya’s problems started after a routine medical test by the Spanish Sports Council (CSD). In 2000 they withdrew his international license due to what he describes as “an abnormal heart valve.”
With the help of independent consultants he won back his right to compete overseas in November 2003, just in time to win the world under-23 title in New Zealand.
He failed to make Spain’s 2004 Olympic squad and in 2005 the CSD decided to bar the Swiss-born athlete from competing at home and abroad until February 2006.
“I don’t think the Spanish Triathlon Federation and the CSD did well in my case. But we have got over our problems and I don’t think there is any point trawling through it all again,” Gomez Noya said.
“I have to have routine check-ups every three to six months. While the cardiologists think I can compete there is no problem.
“I didn’t consider quitting. Once the cardiologists said I could run, I decided to fight.”
Since his return to competition, Gomez Noya has been all but unbeatable.
He won the triathlon World Cup series in 2006 and 2007, and leads the 2008 series after winning all four major races he entered, including the world championships this month.
He was runner-up in the 2007 world championship although he finished the year ranked number one.
Gomez Noya was born in Basel, Switzerland, and was only months old when his parents returned to their native Galicia. He started out playing football and switched to swimming before getting into triathlon by chance when he was 15.
Friends at his local swimming club in Ferrol encouraged him to enter a competition.
“It caught my attention, the sport as much as the atmosphere. I saw I had a lot of room to improve but that it matched my characteristics well,” he said.
“Although I come from the world of swimming...my strong point is the running race and it is the one I enjoy the most. It’s where I have had a slight edge over my rivals.”
Typical training sessions last between three and seven hours a day, depending on the proximity to a race, and need to exercise three different sets of muscle groups because of triathlon’s make-up of swimming, cycling and running.
The sport’s growing popularity — it is generally reckoned to have originated in the 1970s — won it acceptance into the Olympics for the first time in 2000 and Gomez Noya says people should not be put off by its reputation as a tough sport.
“I think it is made into something of a myth how hard the sport is. It’s not as tough as the marathon or cycling, where you have to spend six hours on a bike day after day.
“It’s more attractive than them because you do three different disciplines. It’s a young sport, and a clean one, and it’s doing well. We hope it carries on growing.”
One of the problems holding back triathlon’s development, particularly in his home country, is the lack of media exposure.
“It’s difficult in this country...there isn’t a deep sporting culture,” he said. “The priority is given to football and in other sports to the ‘idols’ of the moment such as Fernando Alonso in Formula One or Rafa Nadal in tennis.
“People follow their idols rather than the sports themselves which is bad for the rest of us.”
Gomez Noya, an admirer of cyclist Lance Armstrong and marathon king Haile Gebrselassie, would help to raise the profile of triathlon at home with a podium finish in Beijing.
“It’s an error to count on winning a medal in the triathlon. With one race every four years anything can happen, especially in a sport as tactical as this where it isn’t always the strongest who wins,” he said.
“The pressure could translate into a positive thing. They are my first Games and I just hope my novice status doesn’t work against me.”
Editing by Robert Woodward