MADRID (Reuters) - In a year when the men’s soccer and basketball teams flopped on the biggest stage and Rafa Nadal’s season was wrecked by injury and illness, it was the women who helped protect Spain’s reputation as a nation of sporting excellence.
The standout performers were swimmer Mireia Belmonte, who set two world records at the short course world championships in Doha this month, and badminton player Carolina Marin, who pulled off a huge upset to beat Chinese world number one Li Xuerui and win the women’s singles title at the world championships in Copenhagen in August.
Their achievements were recognized at Monday’s annual awards presented by As sports daily, along with the rhythmic gymnastics team, who successfully defended their world title in the five clubs category in Izmir, Turkey in September.
Spaniards have been spoiled by success over the past decade, with the men’s soccer team claiming consecutive European titles, with a debut World Cup in between, and Nadal rising to the top of the tennis rankings and bludgeoning his way to a record nine French Open crowns.
It came as a massive shock when Spain failed to progress beyond the group stage at the soccer World Cup finals in Brazil, while the basketball team, who had home court advantage and were expected to at least make the final in Madrid, were eliminated by France in the last eight of the World Cup.
Nadal did win at Roland Garros but was unable to compete for most of the year and announced in October he would miss the season-ending World Tour Finals because of appendicitis.
Belmonte and Marin each name Nadal as an inspiration, citing his never-say-die attitude and athletic prowess.
Like Nadal, Marin is a left-hander and when she collapsed onto her back on the court after stunning Li it was almost a carbon copy of one of Nadal’s triumphant celebrations.
“It is a tremendous honor to be compared to him because Nadal is my idol,” Marin said in an interview with As.
“It could be that they compare us because we have the same competitive nature, we never give a ball up for dead, or in my case a shuttlecock,” added the 21-year-old from Huelva.
“It’s true that women are bringing a lot of success to Spanish sport at the moment and hopefully that will continue.”
Belmonte set two world records on the opening day in Doha and on both occasions defeated favorite Katinka Hosszu, voted best female swimmer of the year for 2014.
Belmonte became the first woman to go under two minutes in the 200 meters butterfly and later beat Hosszu again and broke the Hungarian’s world record in the 400 meters individual medley.
“Spanish women are in a great moment,” Belmonte, who is from Badalona in Catalonia, told As.
“My coach sometimes tells me that women are more disciplined,” added the 24-year-old.
“I don’t know about that but I am very pleased that we women are achieving such success.”
Editing by Patrick Johnston