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From Malaga to Tokyo at full sail

Gabriel Utrera, competing in the 470 category of sailing.
Gabriel Utrera, competing in the 470 category of sailing. / SUR
  • At 29 years of age, Gabriel Utrera's Olympic dream is still possible

  • With the Trofeo Princesa Sofía and the World Championships in Japan in mind, this Malaga native has his sights on a place in the team for Tokyo 2020

By 29 years of age, most athletes who haven't reached the elite already, will have given up on their hopes of reaching the pinnacle of their sport. For Gabriel Utrera, however, that couldn't be further from the truth. With the 2020 Olympic Games just around the corner, this Malaga sailor is in with a chance of earning a spot on the Spain team.

After a lifetime dedicated to the sea, which alongside his boat he considers to be his "office", the moment which he had been dreaming of arrived. A year and a half ago, the second-in-command of the Olympic team gave Utrera a call and asked him if he would like to join them as a spot had become available. Without any hesitation, he headed straight for Barcelona to take part in the trials.

As it happened, Utrera shone in the 470 category and was picked for the Spanish preliminary Olympic team. "It was a massive moment; something I've dreamed of since I was a kid," he says.

Leaving Malaga behind

He is the only person from Malaga on the team but while that is a source of pride for Utrera, he also thinks it's a shame: "This is a country surrounded by water and yet we don't give sailing the importance that it deserves - at least in the case of Malaga. In Barcelona and Santander, it has a lot more prominence."

Because of this, Utrera spends less time in his home city than he would have liked, but tries to get back as often as his calendar permits.

Age no boundary

Opportunities prevent themselves to people of all ages. At 29, Gabriel Utrera knew that it might have been too late, but he didn't allow that to dampen his ambition. "I want to be at Tokyo 2020 but also Paris 2024. The years can't stop me from doing what I love most," he says.

In order to qualify for Tokyo 2020 he has to get a good average score in the two qualifying races this year: the Trofeo Princesa Sofía (Palma de Mallorca) and the World Championships in Japan.

In both, Utrera will participate in the 470 category and his boat is the second favourite. If he gets the highest score in his category between the two tournaments, he will be able to go to Tokyo 2020 representing Spain, but it looks complicated due to financial issues.

"I have very high expectations, because in the sea we are all the same. But it is true that our rival has greater backing than we do with sponsorship from large companies such as Mapfre or Movistar. On the other hand, we have to pay for everything. It's a disadvantage, but it's not definitive," he says.

Utrera, however, is able to compete with the help of his parents, who gave him "80% of the total budget". They were the ones who made his dream possible and for that reason Utrera wants to make sure that it isn't all in vain. "If I make it to Tokyo I want to make sure boys and girls have the same opportunity that I did, especially in my home city."