The 1996 Atlanta gold was born in the heads of Toni Esteller and Mariano García, two water polo madmen, a Montaigne reader and a ‘sergeant’ who in the 80s imagined a winning team, an explosive mix between Madrid and Barcelona that, when put together, it was a perfect, winning, legendary machine. “If we were Americans, we would be heroes,” says Pedro García Aguado. He is not without reason.
The Olympic Museum of Barcelona welcomed the tribute to the 25 years of the last gold of a Spanish team in the Games. Iván Moro, Manel Estiarte, Carles Sans and the long-awaited Jesús Rollán were absent. But if the protagonists were there. That water polo team won more than anyone, a Dream Team: two world golds (1998 and 2001), two world silver (1991 and 1994), one silver (1992) and one Olympic gold (1996).
The Atlanta gold cannot be explained without the Barcelona silver, that endless final against Italy that required three extensions. After that, and the suffering with Dragan Matutinovic, Joan Jané’s Spain verged on excellence. In Atlanta, they beat the United States, Hungary and Croatia 7-5 in the final.
“That was born from suffering, from surviving that training”, recalls García Aguado. “We lost 1-0 in the first quarter, but we looked at each other calmly. We were mature ”, says Dani Ballart. Some got rid of their thorn, like Miki Oca, who hit the crossbar in Barcelona but scored in the final: “I’m thankful”. Confidence in victory was so resounding that Sergi Pedrerol spoke of “One more day at the Games” while Rafa Payáo Chema Abarca, who debuted in a final, spoke with “the tranquility of the team.” “The night before we slept like babies, said Chava Gómez, while Ángel Andreo admits that” he had been dreaming of gold throughout the tournament.
There was a special memory for Jesús Rollán, who disappeared, both from the president of the RFEN, Fernando Carpena, and Alejandro Blanco, President of the International Olympic Committee. His memory is not erased, like that of a Selection that not only gives lessons of success but also “of life”.