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'I feel this is my place in the world; I enjoy country life'

'I feel this is my place in the world; I enjoy country life'
/ Ignacio Pérez
  • Maider Unda, bronze medallist at the 2012 Olympic Games, doesn't miss travelling the world; she's found happiness making cheese at her family farm in a tiny village in the Basque Country

Maider Unda (Vitoria, 1977) says that her six-year-old daughter Iraide sometimes plays with the bronze medal that she won at the 2012 London Olympics. "She's still too young to understand the effort it takes to get there," she says. Nowadays the former freestyle wrestler has traded competing around the globe for a more tranquil life on her family farm in the Basque village of Olaeta.

What time did you get up today?

Quarter to six. First I milked the sheep and then I made cheese.

How many do you have?

About three hundred, but I didn't milk them all, you know. Since I was a child I've known you can't get attached to them. We also have hens, chickens, rabbits and pigs in the farmhouse. And dogs and cats, of course.

What does your cheese taste like?

Above all, a tradition, a way of life. The taste varies every year because it depends on the pastures, whether it is a wet or dry year. When I was very young we didn't market it, but when I was 14 I remember going with my mother to the fairs.

You've looked after sheep and fought all your life.

Yes, when I was studying I didn't help my parents in the stable, but if I had a holiday I would take a book and go and look after the sheep. When I was nine, I started sambo at school. I could have ended up playing tennis.

When you were fighting, did you ever think about the countryside?

When I was training I would disconnect from the farm and when I was here I would forget about fighting. I needed them both.

The general public don't tend to know much about wrestling.

People think it's about punching and kicking. But by competing you realise how important strategy is. You have to manage emotions and situations. You need an incredible capacity for suffering.

Has boxing never caught your attention?

Oof, it scares me a little bit, because of the face.

What qualities does a good fighter have to have?

Above all, a calm head. You have to be able to understand how things work, be a little clever and see what you can use at any given moment.

Do you consider yourself to be a violent person?

No, not at all. Maybe when I was young but time has taught me a lot. You know... "Oh, here comes the fighter..." But I prefer to resolve things by talking, not fighting.

You went to Madrid to train in a high performance centre but soon came back.

I realised that I could train just as well or better at the farmhouse. In a high performance centre you are just another number, not a person.

For athletes, the feeling is that sport is their whole life.

Yes. Athletes are very self-centred, they often have to be. But when I was only focused on training, I found my mind didn't work so well. Sport isn't only physical.

What if your daughter said she wanted to follow in your footsteps?

I always say she should do whatever she wants. I wouldn't mind.

Does Olaeta ever feel too small?

Uh, Olaeta is very big, there is room for everything. For me exploring the world was tied in with work and sacrifice and I'm not willing to pay that price again. I feel that this is my place in the world, I am where I want to be, and I enjoy what I do.

People from cities tend to have a romantic image of country life.

They do, but because they don't know what hard work it is. I take people on guided tours of the farm and they're always surprised when I say only two people work here full-time. They always leave thinking about how beautiful the lamb is and how delicious the cheese is. When the weather's good, of course.

You've succeeded in a men's sport. Do you feel it is a feminist struggle?

It was a personal struggle. We have to see ourselves as people who can achieve what we set out to do. In some countries, such as Iran, women still fight covered from head to toe.

You've donated your 2008 Beijing jersey to support the health workers.

It's just a little gesture. Unlike so many others we've not been locked down; the sheep still have to be taken out every day. We've had to adapt, though. The fairs have disappeared, we're doing home deliveries and I'm doing a marketing course to learn to sell the cheeses on the internet, but I don't have much time.