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Spain’s hopes at worlds rest on Belmonte

July 26, 2013

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Two-time Olympic medalist Mireia Belmonte has the hopes of a host nation on her shoulders.

For a football-crazed nation that has enjoyed scant aquatic success beyond its synchronized swimming team, Belmonte represents Spain’s best chance for glory in the swimming events at the world championships.

The 22-year-old Belmonte was Spain’s undisputed star from the 2012 Olympics when she won a pair of silver medals in the 200-meter butterfly and the 800-meter freestyle.

“I am inspired by London 2012,” Belmonte said. “Swimming in front of the home crowd will be a very big motivation and I will try to do it as well as I can. I want to be competitive and try to surpass my goals, and the best way to do that is to aim for your best times and try to break them.”

Belmonte will certainly have more than one opportunity.

She plans to compete in 200- and 400-meter individual medleys, the 200 butterfly, and the 400, 800, and 1,500-meter freestyle, all to be held in the temporary indoor pool set up inside the Palau Sant Jordi. The swimming events begin on Sunday.

“It’s the first time I have visited this pool, it’s spectacular,” Belmonte said. “I have never swum at the Sant Jordi, and the truth is that it will be very special.”

Her six individual events represent one more than the program for American teenage standout Missy Franklin, who has five plus three relays.

Belmonte had her breakout at the 2010 short-course world championships when she collected three gold medals in the 200 and 400 IM, and 200 fly.

She has yet to medal at a long-course worlds, however, with her best result leaving her just off the podium in 2011 in the 400 IM.

But Belmonte has not had a calm year since London. She broke with her club near Barcelona apparently over a funding dispute. After a stint training in France, she eventually returned to Sabadell and was reunited with coach Fred Vergnoux in January after the Spanish Olympic Committee intervened to help seal her a sponsorship deal.

Regardless, Belmonte said she has had enough time to refocus and make up for any lost time.

“I believe I am arriving here in good shape,” she said. “We trained very intensely, perhaps more than for London, and we have recently reduced my work rate so I could get here feeling rested.”

Spain’s best showing at a world championships came in 2009 in Rome. The Mediterranean nation won three bronze medals in swimming and a silver in water polo to go with seven medals in synchronized swimming.

“Bettering Rome 2009, which we are capable of doing, would be a great result,” Spanish swimming federation president Fernandez Carpena said.

Carpena was careful not to place too much pressure on Belmonte, who has been splashed across newspapers throughout Spain and above all in her native region of Catalonia in the run-up to the worlds.

“I don’t want to put too much responsibility on any one of our teams,” Carpena said. “Our entire delegation should try to improve on those results (from Rome). I contemplate these worlds with measured optimism.”

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