The happiness on the face of Duane da Rocha said it all. She had just finished the final of the 50m backstroke in the Spanish Championships at Inacua in Malaga and recorded a time which sealed a gold medal. For Da Rocha, returning from a break from sport to tackle the psychological issues years of elite sport had inflicted, this was the perfect way to bring an end to two very complicated years for the athlete.
Monday was a very intense day for Da Rocha. The Club Natación Mijas swimmer had to take part in the preliminary round for the 50m backstroke in the morning, easing her way into the semifinals with no difficulties, with a time of 28:87 seconds. When evening came, the Malaga swimmer (she was born in Brazil but grew up in the province) progressed to the final with a time of 28:51 seconds. The veteran then turned back the clock and demonstrated that class is permanent, winning the final with a time of 28:67.
However, there was even more to come from Da Rocha on the final day of competition on Wednesday. The swimmer picked up her second gold medal of the competition, winning the 100m backstroke with a time of 1:00.87 - close to the Spanish record set by Nina Zhivanevskaya, 1:00.29.
“I enjoyed it but I was very nervous. It's been a long time since I've taken part in such a big final,” she admitted.
Her results are not enough to qualify for the European Championships, although it's likely that she has done enough to qualify for the Mediterranean Games.
“Getting that competitive edge and that 'tingle' back has been incredible. What's happened has been very tough but I feel like I have been born again,” said Da Rocha, with the medal around her neck, of the difficulties she has had to overcome in the past years.
“I am very happy to have won this medal. In the morning, I didn't expect to feel so good and in such good shape. During the evening, I would have liked to have recorded a better time, but my objective during these championships was to enjoy it.”
These triumphs came at Inacua, in Malaga, a venue that is close to Da Rocha's heart: “I have always enjoyed coming back to Inacua, because I only have great memories of the place. I qualified for two Olympic Games here; in fact every time I've been here I've got good results.”
After living briefly at the High Performance Centre in Barcelona to prepare for the Olympics in Rio, Da Rocha decided to come home: “In Barcelona it was very difficult to be myself and I was having psychological problems. Coming back to Malaga was the best decision. Thanks to the atmosphere, the trainer and the group I have been able to concentrate on swimming again,” she said after coming down from the podium.
With regard to her next challenges, she said: “I think I have to focus on enjoying it then from there take it step by step. I don't want to finish my career in a bad way or have it characterised by problems and frustration.”
A deserved third place
Duane da Rocha wasn't the only representative of Malaga in the championship. María de Valdés got a deserving third place on Monday (her first of two bronzes), with a time of 16.41:47, in the 1,500m freestyle. In it, Mireia Belmonte claimed the top prize, finishing after 16.07:43, winning her the gold medal, but also earning her qualification for the European Championships to be held in Glasgow.This was not the Catalan swimmer's only success: having done a 2.12:54 in the 200m freestyle semifinal to earn her a spot at the championships in August later this year, she went on to win six gold medals, one in each event in which she competed.