By Emma Briones
Manel Estiarte (Manresa, 1961) has been fourteen years without jumping into the pool. However, the admiration for his older brother has made him spend more than 30 years in the water. During those years he became one of the best water polo players in the world, participating in six Olympics games and taking gold in Atlanta ’96.
They’ve told me, but I do not remember, that I used to cry a lot in the water, I did not like it. And, truth be told, I hate water, even scares me.
And you ended up in the pool
I was little and my mother, for convenience, as my older siblings were swimmers, signed me at the CN Manresa to learn to swim.
So what led you to play water polo?
It was the love for my brother Albert, I wanted to do what he did. He played water polo, I wanted to water polo. He was playing with the team, I wanted to play with the team … And I played, I played and I got over him, I left him behind [laughs]. I think my brother loves water polo more than me, but I did water polo for him.
But you started as a swimmer.
I was champion of Spain in 200 and 400 styles. I was a swimmer, I trained swimming, I went to the swimming championships. On Friday afternoon, if we had trained well during the week, the coach would let us play with the ball.
When you changed swimming for water polo?
There was a winter that was really the key, I qualified for the only international competition, the Eight Nations. It was a dream to go with the swimming national team. While I was heating, pum! I hit and broke my hand. I cried a lot, I could not go to any competition for a month. And with spring came Pepe Brascó, who was very clever and took me to the absolute team.
And you were only 15 years old…
I was a little 15 year old, who suddenly was playing with the absolute, in Jönköping European Championships (1977). There was criticism, because I was very young, and there were far more good players than me, but Brascó gambled and I will always be grateful.
When I returned from there, I decided to change swimming for water polo. I was aware that I had a talent for water polo, Brascó offered me candy, and I fell for it.
It was an experience.
Suddenly, I had the opportunity to leave Manresa and look what is in the world, to get caught and be taken to the European Championships. Reach out and see De Magistris, that young people today do not know him, but I used to read about him, and there he was, with other amazing water polo players. I was a kid, and I could play for the first time WATERP OLO. For me it was my “BIWPA“.
Would you have liked to have BIWPA then?
I wish I had, but it didn’t exist. However, that competition and BIWPA are the same: it’s water polo, is passion, emotion, touch …
You’ve had a spectacular career, what is your favourite moment?
Four years after losing in Barcelona ’92, and again we are the same one in Atlanta, and the ending whistle. At that time our feelings were like a kick to the heart, the game was over and we hugged each other.
The Olympic Gold.
It has not a different value, the Olympic medal is the same then than now, but the friendship between us, the desire for revenge after the damage we had in Barcelona ’92. 25 years of selection, 30 years of water polo and a life in the water. But if I have to pick a moment, is that one.
You’ve been a few years away from water polo …
I felt very strongly that I wanted to stop in Atlanta, at 36, and those four years later, served as if they were 20, they sucked every little I had left. My mother told me I would miss it, but I knew I wouldn’t miss anything. I’ve never swum after that, I’ve been 14 years without jumping into the pool.
Because it’s over. That was wonderful, my life, but water polo was part of my life, and it was spectacular in every way. Surely I could have done more, but I would have done it unmotivated, for sure. Occasionally I come to a game and in two minutes I can say what works and what does not, who is good and who is not. Water polo it’s inside me.
How do you see today’s water polo from outside?
Those who love water polo clearly will always love water polo, but it is clear that our eyes now let us see that this is water polo. The water polo I had seen in black and white, in the 40s, 50s, 60s, looks more like today’s water polo, and I think that there’s something that does not fit.
Should we make changes, as claimed by FINA?
There was a time in which they should have done, between 2002-2004, there was a water polo trend, and it was changing, I do not know if better or worse, but it was changing. Clearly, if now I see in the Olympic finals Yugoslavia, Spain, Hungary, Italy … I’ll love it, because we see talent, effort, power, emotion … But if I look at everything else, there is something that does not fit, the current water polo doesn’t make you smile. I am convinced that if 50 children to go see water polo for the first time, 46 will not be hooked.
Something is wrong.
In all sports, if you give the ball to the kids, they’ll want to score, because there is still no tactics, no defense. In water polo same. You leave the kids in a pool with a ball, and go straight to the goal. This is the basis of sports. If you take a kid to a water polo match, he’ll say “Why don’t they shoot dad?” And how will you explain them? “No, son, is that if you shoot, there is a statistical chance that …” And it’s always no, don’t shoot now.
In waterpolo you have to wait.
The percentage in water polo it’s an 80% of I get there and wait. That means losing something of sports’ nature. I love it, I loveit dearly, but there is something of the water polo essence that is beyond me, that does not fit. Water polo is a sport that we’re educating wrong.