Christian: Today I’m joined by Tania Lamarca. Olympic champion 1996, 2 times World Champion and member of Las Niñas de Oro which means golden girls and is a very cool story. After her career, Tania has served as a national coach, a published author, and a TED speaker.
[The original interview was in Spanish, the text below is the translation of the original interview.]
Tania: Hello, good morning.
How she got into gymnastics
Christian: How did you get into the sport of gymnastics?
Tania: Very casual, since I was very young every time I saw something on television related to gymnastics or dance I tried to imitate it, and my parents decided to sign me up for gymnastics as an after-school activity.
Christian: How old were you?
Tania: 5 years old, I started at 5 years old like if it was just a game, and when I got out of school I said I wanted to do rhythmic gymnastics.
Christian: Ok, you started with 5 years and you won the Olympics at 16 years, right?
Tania: Yes, I was 16 when we competed at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
Her darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was the darkest moment?
Tania: The darkest moment for me was living away from my circle of friends and family. The darkest moment was when I had to decide to be an elite gymnast because that meant I had to separate from my family and move to another city.
The darkest moment was when I had to decide to be an elite gymnast because that meant I had to separate from my family and move to another city. But I was always doing what I liked the most, so I don’t recall them as the darkest moment.
Those were really hard times, that were demanding moments, but I was always doing what I liked the most, so I don’t recall them as the darkest moment. If I have to pick a very difficult moment, it was the day of my retirement. During the sports career, there were not so many complicated moments.
If I have to pick a very difficult moment, it was the day of my retirement.
Christian: What did you learn from this hard time?
Tania: I learned a lot of things. I learned that you have to get up when you fall. For me, retirement was a very difficult moment.
I learned that you have to get up when you fall.
I had to deal with it, I had to get back up and take out everything that sports and gymnastics had taught me to apply to my post-sport life.
How she was removed from the national team
Christian: I read there was also a moment they threw you out of the national team, or you did not meet the criteria for the bodyweight you needed, right?
Tania: Yes, at that time the technical team decided that I had to have certain body weight, and since I didn’t fulfill it, they decided that I couldn’t continue in the team, and so I had to end my sports career a little earlier than I had planned.
I had to have certain body weight, and since I didn’t fulfill it, I had to end my sports career a little earlier than I had planned.
Christian: And you could never go back to the team?
Tania: No, not anymore. The technical decision was that I was expelled from the national team, and at that moment I retired, I left gymnastics. It was a very difficult moment for me. Psychologically and I needed psychological help, and I really did not consider going back to training, and at that moment was the end of being in the national team, I returned home and started with my previous life again.
Christian: What year was that?
Tania: 1998. Two years after the Olympic Games.
Her best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Tania: Without a doubt, the best moment was the Olympic Games 1996 when they put the medal around my neck. Getting a gold medal at the Olympic Games it’s the moment that every athlete dreams of, and it is true that I have had many good moments that have nothing to do with success, but they are more related to coexistence and everything gymnastics has taught me, but if I have to highlight an unforgettable moment, of course, it was the day I won the gold medal at the Olympic Games.
I have had many good moments, if I have to highlight an unforgettable moment, it was the day I won the gold medal at the Olympic Games.
What gymnastics taught her for life
Christian: What did gymnastics teach you?
Tania: It taught me a lot about working as a team, because I have always been a team person, and in the end, in the national team, we were a team, we competed in the Women’s All-round Rhythmic Gymnastics group and we learned how to work as a team.
It taught me to adapt, which I think is the most valuable quality that we can have as a human being, the ability to adapt. In life, if we do not adapt, we do not move forward, and rhythmic gymnastics taught me that.
It taught me to adapt, which I think is the most valuable quality that we can have as a human being, if we do not adapt, we do not move forward.
I had to live with people very different from me, I had to adapt to people who did not train the same as me, and we were a team fighting for the same goal. So, adapting to any type of character, to any type of physical person, to any type of coach, it was a constant adaptation to everything that came to me day by day to achieve what I wanted.
Apart from the sacrifice, from the work, from everything I learned, if I really take something with me it is the ability to adapt.
Christian: What did you learn from the best moment of the Olympic Games for your life?
Tania: From the medal itself? From the moment of the medal? I learned that every effort has its rewards. I really felt the valuation of effort and reward at that time. I struggled a lot to go to the Olympic Games, it was very difficult for me to get there, and the road was not easy, and when they were hanging the medal on me, it was not only the dream came true, but also the reward for all that effort that I had done for so many years.
I struggled a lot to go to the Olympic Games, and the road was not easy, and when they were hanging the medal on me, it was not only the dream came true, but also the reward for all that effort that I had done for so many years.
Christian: A hypothetical question, what would you say to people who make the effort and get no reward?
Tania: That has happened to me in my daily life, and is happening to me now. I always think that effort has a reward even if it is not material, you have to always look for the reward it has. It is true that I achieved success in sports, but then, in my post-sport life, it has been very difficult for me in the work-life, in my personal life. So, the effort I am making every day really has a personal reward for what I am doing, and in the end, I am fighting for something, right?
Effort has a reward even if it is not material.
And whether I get it or I don’t get it, that will depend on me. If it’s really worth all I’m learning while making that effort, right? Because it is true that with the medal I got a material reward, but what I valued is the road I went on to get to the medal, is what I take with me, right?
In the end, I am the way I am because of what I learned doing gymnastics, not because of a medal I have. Actually, I always say that the medal is just a metal I have at home, and it really does not give me the personality I am, what gives me the personality I am, is all the work I did to get to it. So, I always say that effort always has its rewards, even if it is not material. Let’s not look for the material reward.
The moment they realized that they will go to the Olympics to compete for a medal
Christian: In the preparation for the Olympic Games, at what point did you realize as a team going for a medal or for a gold medal instead of just participating?
Tania: At what point was the objective to win a medal? We were going to the European Championships and World championships, and we were already classified in the top 3, so, we were already training to get a medal.
When we qualified for the Olympic Games, the goal at that time became to go for a medal. We never looked for the gold one, it is true that the athlete always wants to achieve the top, but our real objective was any medal, I mean, we didn’t care about the color.
Our real objective was any medal, we didn’t care about the color.
As long as the objective was to be on the podium because it was what we had been managing all the previous years, we had been World Champions, runner-up at World Championships, we wanted to maintain that level and be among the top 3 at the Olympic Games. It is true that internally everyone wanted us to get the gold, and so did we, but the real objective was to go for a medal, it didn’t matter the color.
Her advice to a younger Tania Lamarca
Christian: What advice would you give to a younger you?
Tania: I’m not used to giving advice because I always say that each person has their circumstances, their life, then, giving an opinion about what someone may do or give advice from my perspective, is very different from the other person who is listening to my needs.
But the truth is that for the young men or women who are doing gymnastics or sports in general, the major advice that I can give them is to enjoy what they do. The day that they don’t enjoy what they are doing, that day will be the day when they have to make a decision.
Enjoy what you do. The day that you don’t enjoy what you are doing, will be the day when you have to make a decision.
We only live once, and I think that everything we do has to make us enjoy it. If we do something that is costing us too much, it is time to evaluate why we are doing it. So, my only advice is to enjoy what you do.
The balance between sacrifice and enjoyment in sports
Christian: In the sport of gymnastics, you need to sacrifice a lot, there are many training hours, it is very hard training. So, how would you say is the balance between sacrifice and enjoyment?
Tania: It is true that my sport is very, very demanding because it requires many hours of training as you said, so it practically demands that your life becomes gymnastics. How is this appreciation of enjoying compensated?
My sport is very, very demanding because it requires many hours of training, so it practically demands that your life becomes gymnastics.
It is what I liked the most, I speak on a personal level, what I really liked to do the most was gymnastics. I was never envious because people of my age had a different life. I never really thought that others had anything better than what I had. So, the effort was a lot of effort, but I always thought I was doing what I liked the most. I didn’t really envy another kind of life, so I didn’t have the feeling that mine was very costly.
Her success habits
Christian: What are the habits that have made you a successful athlete or a successful person?
Tania: Not giving up. My habit is perseverance and not giving up. What I have taken from the sport is not to give up.
My habit is perseverance and not giving up.
I have come across situations in life where I have gone through difficult stages, and in the end I always say that I wouldn’t be like this if I wouldn’t have become a gymnast, and I think that gymnastics has taught me not to give up. That even if things get complicated, we should not give up, that in the end there will always be the end of the road, right?
Her morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Tania: Well, currently I do, I have been a month with a routine, because I started a new job, and it requires me to have a routine, but it’s true that I don’t have a very organized and structured life.
Every day new things arise, every year I always say that I reinvent myself, every year my head is always thinking of doing new things, and the routine does not get along with me.
Christian: And as a gymnast?
Tania: As a gymnast, I had an overly organized routine. As a gymnast, I led a very, very organized life. Maybe that’s why now I lead such a different life, but it is true that I got up in the morning, we went to training, we had breakfast, we trained, we returned home, we ate, a little rest and we went back to training, and that was our day to day every day from Monday to Saturday, on Sunday we rested and then back to training on Monday.
I don’t have a very organized and structured life. As a gymnast, I led a very, very organized life.
Christian: I watched the film with you on the Olympic Channel, and before the Olympic Games all the team lived in Madrid in a center or something like that, right?
Tania: Yes. That’s right, we all lived together.
Christian: How many years before the Olympic Games was that?
Tania: One year, I joined the team in 1994, I joined the team 2 and a half years before the Olympic Games. So, those 2 and a half years we were concentrated and we lived together in Madrid.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare for an important moment?
Tania: How do we prepare ourselves as athletes? We had a psychologist who emotionally prepared us to endure pressure, for whatever training, competition, and even our own nerves.
We had a psychologist who emotionally prepared us to endure pressure, for whatever training, competition, and even our own nerves.
It is true that we had help so that we could manage that important moment, and with the help of the coaches as well. It is true that we prepared the important moment by rehearsing it and imagining it. So, with the help of the psychologist, we prepared the moments that we later lived.
The preparation for the Olympic final 1996
Christian: How does it work, for example, in the finals of the Olympic Games, when the moment comes, how do you prepare for this moment?
Tania: We had to compete for two days, the first day we did very good performance because we were second, and the second day, it was the finals, we were starting from scratch, and the last 6 teams were competing for the medal. We really did one more day.
The good thing is that we took the Olympic Games as our best training, which I think is the key, right? To take the competition as your best training without adding extra pressure, that is, we had trained so much, we prepared for that moment so many times.
We took the Olympic Games as our best training without adding extra pressure, we had trained so much, we prepared for that moment so many times.
So all we did was train like every day, warm up like every day, and go out on the floor and do what we knew how to do, which was an exercise we had trained a thousand times. So all we had to do was go out and do what we knew how to do.
It seems complicated but it’s not that complicated. In the end, in life, we add an extra pressure to try to do things on a day better than the rest of our lives, and I think that’s the mistake, right? It is doing what you know how to do and you have trained for.
So, you don’t have to change anything because it’s a very important day. The key was that we did what we usually did every day.
How to prepare for important moments in life
Christian: How do you prepare for important moments in life right now?
Tania: I improvise a lot. I improvise a lot, but it’s true that I took that out of gymnastics, not obsessing with thinking that I’m going to risk my whole future in just one day. My whole life is not at stake in one day. So, when I have an important moment, I prepare for it, I work for it, and do what has to be done, and the day where I have that important moment, I do it.
My whole life is not at stake in one day. So, when I have an important moment, I prepare for it, I work for it, and do what has to be done.
It goes well? Great. It goes wrong? My life is not going to be out of place because an important moment in my life does not go well. With that thinking, I took the pressure off a lot of things.
Christian: I understand.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Tania: Crying! I am a very emotional person, and it is true that when I have a setback, I have a bad time just then. I am a very positive person, but at the moment, I stop, I fall apart like everyone else.
The thing is that later I am a very, very optimistic person. I always try to get the good side of things, and despite the fact that there are times when we think they don’t have it, I can always find something positive.
I am a very, very optimistic person. I can always find something positive.
So, I hold on to that as if it was the most valuable thing I have, and that’s when I overcome the difficult moments that have happened to me, looking for what I can do to get better.
Her role model
Christian: Who is your role model and why?
Tania: Athletically speaking, it is Rafa Nadal, who may be the role model for thousands of Spaniards and athletes. He encompasses what an athlete has to be for me. There are many athletes, with many successes, but I believe that Rafa encompasses sporty and personally what an athlete should be, a true example.
And personally, the truth is that my role model is anyone who never gives up on what they want. I don’t really have a role model, but people I have around and fight for what they want, and don’t give up, are role models for me.
The truth is that my role model is anyone who never gives up on what they want.
Anyone, the truth is I always say that anyone has an amazing story to be a role model.
Christian: Rafa is also my idol. Since I saw the first time, I saw him in Germany, he played for a club in 2003, and then in 2005, he won Roland Garros, amazing. It’s amazing what he achieved in his career, incredible.
Tania: Yes, and despite everything, he achieved he is very humble, which is an important quality.
Christian: Yes, absolutely. Ok. It’s not about Rafa, it’s about you.
The best advice she has received
Christian: What is the best advice you have received?
Tania: My family told me to never lose the essence of who I am, to not get carried away by situations and to never forget who I am. That’s the best advice I have received, and which I try to give my daughter, to never forget who she is, despite what happens around.
Never lose the essence of who I am.
Christian: What essence for you?
Tania: What each person has. In the end, sometimes we think “I want to be like this one”, “I want to be like her”, “I want to do what he does”, we look at people we want to be, and we forget that everybody has something special, and you just have to look a little bit, and once you find it, you always take it with you.
That my personality is what is important to me and trying not to lose it, right? Not losing the personality I have and not letting myself be carried away by the situations around me, whether they are good for success or bad for failure, and thus forget who I am, both for one side or the other.
I always say, when you are successful it’s difficult to keep your feet on the ground, and when you fall is hard to remember how good you are, right?
When you are successful it’s difficult to keep your feet on the ground, and when you fall is hard to remember how good you are, right?
Then, there is the midpoint, not going up or down, to always remember who you are, that you’re good in good times and bad times.
Her motivation to write her book Lágrimas por una medalla (Tears for a Medal)
Christian: You wrote a book, Lágrimas por una medalla (Tears for a Medal). What can people expect from this book?
Tania: I really wrote the book in a very casual way. In the end, like everything in life, it was in a casual way and I wrote it because everyone told me that my story should be told.
In the beginning, I wasn’t very interested and said “Well, who would read the book?”, but it’s true that the book tells what is behind an athlete, not what we see on television, which is to win a medal or lose a medal, but the life behind the athlete, how they try to achieve their dream, how they achieve it, and in my case, I achieved it, and what happened next.
The book tells what is behind an athlete, not what we see on television, but the life behind the athlete.
We are very used to seeing the athlete on television, suddenly we stop seeing them and we have a very short memory. I really think that what our athletes achieve is very little value, we only remember them when we see them at the top of the podium, but when they get off the podium, they are people, we are people rather than athletes, and sometimes people forget that.
So, what the book tells and expresses is how to get a medal at the Olympic Games, and what happens next with that person who stops being an athlete and who has to rebuild his or her life.
Check out Tania’s book Lágrimas por una medalla: Un conmovedor testimonio sobre la lucha para alcanzar un sueño (Divulgación) (Spanish Edition) [disclosure: if you purchase the book through this link, I will receive a 4.5% commission from Amazon].
A typical training day in the life of an Olympic Gymnast
Christian: How is a typical training day for a gymnast?
Tania: Well, a typical day in my time, 20 years ago, a typical day to prepare for the Games in the Olympic year was training in the morning, we had a ballet session, every day we had 2 hours of ballet, and then what we did was divide the training 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon, in case it went well.
If things did not go well, it was more time, and it was divided into specific parts, physical preparation, the technical part, and the part of the exercises that we used to compete. Working all the technical elements with the apparatus and the music.
Her interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone for an interview?
Tania: To nominate? You have interviewed a lot of well-known athletes. It’s difficult to think of a name, but I nominate any female athlete.
The truth is that now many particular names come to mind, but any woman who has achieved success and has not to be valued equally.
What’s going on in Tania Lamarca’s life at this moment in time
Christian: Very good. What is going on in Tania Lamarca’s life today?
Tania: Each day there are very different situations. I’m a mom of an 11-year-old girl, and that’s really what mainly happens. My life revolves around her, and she is really the engine that drives me to do everything.
And well, I work, I have a normal life like anyone, I am married, I go out with my friends, I have a very, very normal life, but it is true that I do have to highlight something, and for what I do everything, it is for my little girl, what has changed my life is being a mom.
Where can you find Tania Lamarca
Christian: Where can people find you?
Tania: I’m on social media, I am on Instagram, it is where I am the most, and it’s true that my Instagram account is very personal. Sometimes I tell things or I post something, it’s always about what happens to me, how I’m living, it’s very personal. If people want to know me, on that account they will know a little bit more about how I am because it’s not much about work, but about applying the meaning I give to my life, I tell it there for those it may be helpful.
Tania Lamarca’s social profiles
Christian: Thank you very much for your time.
Tania: Thank you very much.