Manuel Estiarte: “Going to the Closing Ceremony as Olympic champions was incredible”
Water polo player Manuel Estiarte represented Spain at six editions of the Olympic Games, in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000, winning silver in 1992 and gold in 1996. And in Sydney in 2000, he carried his nation’s flag at the Opening Ceremony.
My first Olympic Games were in Moscow in 1980 and it was an absolute dream come true to be there. I come from a humble family in Spain and so just to participate in the Olympic Games was an amazing thing. What is even more remarkable is that my sister had already competed in an Olympics - she was in the Spanish team for the Montreal Olympics in 1976 so for me to emulate her was very special.
In 1980, I did not have any lofty ambitions - I did not expect to go to Moscow and win a gold medal or anything like that, so to just be at the Games was an absolute privilege. I was so proud to be at the Opening Ceremony in Moscow as part of the Spanish delegation and even now, I can still remember how I felt – I felt like I was living my dream.
The Games in Los Angeles four years later were very different in comparison to Moscow. The Olympics in 1980 had been boycotted so there was a different atmosphere whereas in America in 1984, there was a real excitement surrounding the Games.
The Olympics in Seoul in 1988 were different again. I felt that those Games were the start of something really big for the Spanish men’s water polo team. I was the captain of the team and I was the most experienced player, but we had a young team with new players coming through and I felt at those Games, something special was beginning to happen for us as a group. The Games in 1988 were a great experience for me, but what is most memorable is that I remember feeling that those Olympic Games was the start of something significant for us.
The Olympic Games in 1992 were in Barcelona, my home country and that was just unbelievable. The Opening Ceremony in Barcelona was one of the greatest experiences of my life. To be in front of my people - the Spanish people, the Catalan people, my family and my friends, it was so, so special. Every athlete’s dream is, first of all, to participate in the Olympic Games. And then the next dream is to participate in an Olympic Games with the chance to win a gold medal. So to know that we had an opportunity to become Olympic champions in our home country was an amazing feeling.
Those Olympic Games in 1992 were, for me, the best out of all six that I competed in. They were just amazing. To compete in an Olympic Games in my home country was so special. The people of Spain and of Barcelona loved having that Olympic Games and you could feel in the streets how happy they were to be hosting the Games. Those were my favourite Games - I loved being a part of it.
In Barcelona, we lost in the final in an amazing match against Italy. Our final finished only a couple of hours before the Closing Ceremony began though and I was so disappointed at losing out on the gold medal, I didn’t go to the Ceremony. Quite a few of the players didn’t go. Now, thinking back all these years later, that is a regret of mine but at the time, I was just so disappointed at not winning gold. And as a team, we felt that we had forever lost our opportunity to win gold.
It was my fifth Olympic Games, in Atlanta in 1996, in which we won gold. It was the single best moment of my career. To be able to go to the Closing Ceremony as Olympic champions was incredible and to be there, as a team, with gold medals around our necks was amazing. We had a great party that night.
My sixth Olympic Games were Sydney, in 2000, and that was my final one. To be selected to be flag-bearer for Spain was just amazing. To walk into the stadium carrying the flag was so, so special - I could talk forever and still not manage to fully describe what that felt like. It was such an incredible honour and I felt so unbelievably proud. It was 24 years of my participation in the Olympic Games that had built up to that moment. My teammates were so happy for me too because we had been together for so long and we had been through so many things together - the highs and the lows, the happy times and the disappointments. As I was walking in the stadium with the flag, all the memories of my career went through my mind. I remember very clearly how I felt - I felt so calm and I felt incredibly proud. It was amazing.
It was also an emotional time though, because I knew that would be my last Games. But I felt that to have been a part of the Olympic Games for so long and to have experienced what I did in my career was such a privilege.