Mari Carmen Barea (Malaga, 1966) is one of the athletes from Malaga who has received the highest number of awards in history. She and Theresa Zabell are the only 'Malagueñas' who can say that they have won an Olympic gold medal. Against all predictions, Mari Carmen's field hockey team beat much more powerful rivals and pulled off a historic victory which even the male team has never been able to emulate.
Nearly 25 years later Mari Carmen, who lives in Benagalbón, started to introduce this sport at the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria school, which her two daughters attended. While this sport in Andalucía has barely 400 women and 600 men players, the hockey school created by the Olympic medallist now has over 50 young members, of whom nearly 90 per cent are girls.
“I stopped playing professionally after having my children, but after a few years I really missed hockey and wanted to carry on being associated with it in some way,” she explains. She also thought this would give her daughters the chance to play the sport, which is still quite uncommon in Malaga province.
With the gold medal as her best introduction and the support of the Malaga 91 Hockey Club, Mari Carmen Barea started recruiting members and was surprised that 35 children signed up.
“You have to bear in mind that the fathers and mothers of my daughters' friends didn't even know what hockey was,” she says. “But the support from the school was very important, because they always believed in the project, and they still do, because although a lot of the players have gone up to secondary school now, they still let us use their facilities for training,” she says.
“The fact that my daughters can enjoy this experience reminds me of how I started at the Domingo Lozano school,” says Mari Carmen.
“I know that nearly 600 players have come from there since, but the pleasure of playing hockey with my friends was the same as my daughters are enjoying at the moment.”
The first major tournament
In addition to competing in the Olympics (Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney), several world championships and European cups, and being Spanish team captain, Mari Carmen Barea now has another feather in her cap. The girls' team from Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, in which her daughter Irene is one of the outstanding players, was chosen to compete in the Spanish Championship.
Only the 12 best teams in Spain can take part, and to do so they have had to win several regional competitions and sectors all over the country.
“The reason they competed for the first time was to try to do well in the Andalusian championship, but in the end we won it and carried on winning through all the stages, which meant we were one of the 12 chosen for the Spanish Championship in Castellón,” says the proud coach.
Although the team came tenth in the championship, Mari Carmen says it doesn't matter.
“We competed very well; our team had seven players, whereas others, like the Barcelona Junior and Atletic de Tarrasa, have dozens every year. And what is more, we beat the Club de Campo de Madrid, which is a real institution,” she explains.
Although the team could always do with more assistance, she says the trips the girls have made so far would never have been possible without the collaboration of Rincón de la Victoria council and Unicaja, the organisation which back in the 1990s sponsored Caja Ronda, Mari Carmen's first professional team.
Following the success so far, her objectives from now on are clear: to compete in the Spanish championship again next year, and carry on working to make this hockey school a benchmark in Andalucía.