It has been 22 years since Valentín Massana won the gold medal in the World Athletics Championships in the discipline of 20km race walk. He was the first Spanish athlete - and until Sunday, the last – to stand on the first step of the podium at the World Championships in that distance. Since last Sunday, this has changed; UCAM’s student and athlete, the Murcian Miguel Ángel López, was proclaimed world champion in Beijing 2015, more than two decades after his compatriot. It is worth pointing out the endless signs of support and congratulations the Murcian athlete received from his University and sponsor, UCAM. The native from Llano de Brujas tells us how he is feeling after his great victory and what are his next objectives.
How are you feeling? Could you rest a little after the big race of last Sunday?
More relaxed, but still with a lot of euphoria and assimilating all that happened, which has been huge. It is, for sure, my greatest sporting achievement. The truth is that it was a very difficult, very hard race. These first days are the most intense and now I am processing and enjoying at the same time.
Being world champion is obviously a huge achievement, but it is also worth highlighting that only two Spanish athletes - Massana and Bragado - had won the gold in the discipline of race walk 22 years ago. Does it reinforce the importance of the medal?
It has been an honour and a luxury to match such a great champion like Valentín Massana; he has been a great reference to me. Just when I started competing, he retired and I later had the opportunity to know him personally and he always motivated me. In this regard, it is also important reminding that the last Spanish athlete to get a gold medal in the world athletics championships was Abel Antón 16 years ago, in Seville 1999. Lots of years have passed and thus, winning a new gold medal is very important for the Spanish athletics.
You know that lots of people followed your race, as well as lots of members of the Catholic University. What role did UCAM play in your professional career?
UCAM has been essential during all those years. I started my studies in 2007 in that institution, but we already worked together before in UCAM Athleo. It has been a constant support during more than 10 years, and that university has helped me growing up and realizing a dream like this and thanks to UCAM, I will be able to keep on fighting to meet other objectives as important as the Olympics, occurring next year in Rio de Janeiro.
How do you combine being world champion and your studies in the Sport Faculty at UCAM?
I cannot have the same academic life as other students, but we are passing classes step by step. What is positive about UCAM is that, through its program for athletes, they always make it easier to combine studies and elite sport and especially with the personal tutor that helps you to organize better your study. In the end, the Catholic University is like a big family where everyone wants to help you. Especially the president, José Luis Mendoza, who always makes sure we are feeling good, that we are satisfied of our professional activity and that motivates us a lot to keep on study. Studies are very important, it is the future, and thus it is important to carry them out.
Going back to the race of Sunday in Beijing, was there a moment during the course of the race where you though you would miss the gold medal or, on the contrary, was there a moment where you told yourself “the gold is mine”?
When, at the km14, the race definitely broke, I already saw myself in position of fighting for a medal. Before starting the km15, I realized that the Chinese athlete was staying behind, as well as the Ecuadorian. I pushed myself a little and reached Wang, first at that moment, which was running out of strength. I slowly approached him, and I was sure to get the silver, but I couldn’t settle for this; being world champion was something unique, I had to take the chance so when I caught Wang up, the Chinese athlete, he answered one time, but in the last lap he couldn’t take it anymore and I took the lead.
Who do you first remember after being proclaimed champion?
When you enter the stadium, this moment is for you, in the passage of the tunnel with people, you are thinking about everything you have worked to get there, about your family, the people who are close to you and that were always supporting you. Try to enjoy the moment you enter the stadium… It is beautiful.
Even if the Olympics are one year away, do you see yourself with the gold medal around your neck in Rio de Janeiro?
I hope I will be able to maintain my shape as well as my physical and psychological well-being. I hope I will have a good year that will bring me in the Olympics in a good state to fight for medals. That’s my goal and I will go for it; if I reach a gold medalk, it would be very impressive, the culminating point of a great career in the 20km race walk. We have the utmost enthusiasm; I hope everything will be good.
José Antonio Carrillo: “Miguel Ángel is the best athlete in the world, technically speaking”
As far as the preparation for this World Championships is concerned, Miguel Ángel López’s coach, José Antonio Carrillo, highlights that “we had to work in altitude, and adapt as much as possible to the potential climate during a week in Barcelona, although it eventually was not a problem as the authorities eliminated the pollution”.
Seeing the Olympics coming up, we have a lot of work ahead of us, in the facilities of Athleo in Murcia and in periodic concentration in altitude.