Nicolás García: "My childhood dream has come true"
Interview with Nicolás García Hemme, silver medallist of the Men’s -80 kg category at London 2012 Olympic Games
After grazing the Olympic glory in London, where he lost the final of the -80 kg category by only one point, Nicolás García Hemme (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, 20th of June 1988) temporarily left Taekwondo behind to continue his Architecture studies in Madrid. A well deserved break after completing the 4-year Olympic cycle with 3 valued medals: the Olympic silver in London, the silver at the Copenhaguen 2009 World Champs and the bronze at the Manchester 2012 European Champs. Now that his body has already recovered from such a great effort, Nico faces the next challenge on his career: the 2013 Puebla World Championships, which will be held in the Mexican city next July.
Q. London 2012 were your first Olympic Games, did you feel anything special during the competition in comparison with a World or European Championship?
A. The Olympics are a really special competition, they can’t be compared with a European or World Championship. Firstly because you share the experience with other athletes from other sports, not only Taekwondo fighters. Apart from that, the media impact is simply impressive, there are cameras everywhere. And the crowd is really different as well. The arena was completely full, and not full of other Taekwondo athletes as it happens sometimes. It was impressive to see people who were not really into Taekwondo trembling with our sport.
Q. When you started your competition, your compatriots Brigitte Yagüe and Joel González had already won their medals. Did you take their success as an extra motivation or was it something that put even more pressure on you? People in Spain were getting used to see their Taekwondo athletes winning medals…
A. It didn’t put more pressure on me at all. I already knew I was going to compete after them and I also knew the draw I had to face. I was also aware that winning a medal was not an easy challenge. As our country had already won two medals, everyone thought Taekwondo had already meet the expectations, so I had no extra pressure on me. I spent the day before the competition almost alone because Joel and Brigitte had to attend all the Spanish media. So whatever my results was, it was going to be OK, but I knew I wanted to fight for the medals, I had trained a lot for it. The Olympic silver is a reward for many years of hard work.
Q. Had you imagined the three Spanish representatives winning a medal in London? Was it something predictable?
A. I knew that the work we had done during the previous four years was really good and that the three of us had medal chances, but in our sport you don’t know who is going to win until the combat finishes. Even Joel, who had won everything during the 4 previous years had to struggle in his first combat against the Swedish representative. You can’t relax, not even for a second. Sometimes the smallest detail awards the victory to one or the other. That’s why, even being aware that it was possible, we also knew we had to work very hard and give our best to make it, as it happened with Brigitte in her heart-attacking semifinal.
Q. Your two first matches before facing Sarmiento looked quite comfortable from outside, you seemed to have them under control at all time. Was it really like that?
A. They were two really dangerous opponents. Yousef Karami won the bronze in Athens and has three World titles. He was a really hard opponent, he’s really powerful. I had already fight against him and both my coach Marco Carreira and myself knew the strategy to follow, but we knew it was not going to be easy at all. My second rival was Luttalo Muhammad, who was the local representative and the opponent I had less information about, because despite of being the European champion of the -87 kg, he didn’t have such a long career. He is a physical prodigy and has really good moves to hit his opponent’s face. They key in both matches was to keep calm and wait for the right moment to hit them on the face. I really had to give my best to beat them.
Q. On the other hand, the semifinal combat against Sarmiento had a really close result. How did you face the final part of the match? In a matter of seconds one of you was going to become an Olympic medallist.
A. Many things went through my mind. I remembered that in the last two Olympic qualifiers I had to play the match for the 3rd and 4th place and I thought I didn’t want to play it again because the smallest detail makes you go home euphoric or downcast. I remembered as well that in the last European Championship in Manchester I had beat him by 10 to 3, while in that fight he was really making me struggle. And finally I also thought he had done a big effort trying to comeback in the score, so the extra period would have given him time to recover. So in the end I decided to take the risk and make this final move, which fortunately worked.
Q. When the referee finished the match, did you realize you already were an Olympic medallist? What did you feel?
A. My first thought was: “There’s still one match to play”. I still had to play the final and I wanted more. After I started to realize that I had achieved something really important. My childhood dream had come true and everything I had to do was trying to enjoy the final. These are moments that not many people are able to live. I didn’t feel any more pressure for the final. I just had to go out there and enjoy every second on the tatami. But the 5 hours I had to wait before playing the final were simply endless. I tried to rest, see my family, go to the physiotherapist and get ready for the big final.
Q. Would you change something you did in the final?
A. The strategy was right. Because of the draw I had to face, I was quite more tired than him. Also, after the fight against Muhammad, I started to feel pain on my right knee. So I knew that going out there and trying to hit him in any which way was not the best idea. I had to try to keep the score close because he is used to clearly lead in the score thanks to his hits to the face. Maybe I could have taken the initiative a little more in the last round, or maybe I just missed a bit of luck as some of my moves were really close to hit him on the face.
Q. Taking for granted that the Olympic glory has been the best moment of your career so far, which would you choose as your worst?
A. I don’t think there’s a unique happiest moment in my career. My first European Junior Championship was incredible, the final of the World Championship that I lost against Steven López (5-time world champion and 2-time Olympic champion) by refereeing decision after having suffered an anke fracture 3 weeks before was amazing as well, the moment when I qualified for the Olympics in Kazan also… there are many happy moments and it is really difficult to choose only one.
The worst moment is much clearer: the Olympic qualifiers in Baku in June 2011. I finished fourth after losing against Sarmiento in a not really fair crucial match. I was physically and mentally downcast, but my coach Marco Carreira, and my psychologist Pablo del Río, knew how to wake me up and made me see I was on the right track and I just had to keep working to earn the Olympic place at the Kazan qualifiers. I own them a lot.
Q. Do you think the media impact that your medal in London has had in the Canary Islands will help promoting our sport within the region, particularly in Gran Canaria?
A. Yes, of course. It is already doing so. I will personally try to help in everything I can to make my experience as much popular as possible. I will be delighted to encourage the kids to start taking Taekwondo lessons in order to become elite athletes in the future, but more than this, I will encourage them to enjoy playing Taekwondo.
Q. The García family is very linked to Taekwondo. Tell us a bit about about it.
A. (Laughs) My older brother Eric joined Doksuri Club, which was next to my house, because my parents thought it was a really quiet kid and it could be something good for him. They wanted him to socialize and so sport. The year after, when my twin brother Hugo and myslef were 4 years, they asked Juan Manuel Álamo, a coach from Doksuri, to teach us as well because we were the opposite of Eric, we spent the whole day fighting, jumping, running and playing.
Everything started as a simple game. We had a lot of fun and we made a lot of friends. After some time we started to compete and we achieved quite good results. Eric was a kind of captain for us because he was two-time Spanish Junior champion and bronze medallist of the World Junior Championship. Hugo was pure energy and became Spanish champion three times. He had also fight in the Junior World Championship. At that time, the Spanish Federation had just started a project to train the best athletes in the country at the High Performance Centre of Madrid, and they invited Eric to join it. He started to train with Marco Carreira there. During that same year, Hugo finished second in the Spanish Junior Championship and I won my first Spanish and European junior Championships, so the Federation decided to invite both of us to Madrid, where we joined our older brother.
Eric was still our captain, our leader, and thanks to his leadership Hugo and myself knew which was the right way to follow. Once in Madrid, I started to achieve my first good results as a Senior athlete. Unfortunately, Eric couldn’t keep achieving good results as a Senior, but he has nothing to reproach himself nowadays, as he has a really good job now. He is also studying a doctorate in Physical Sciences. Hugo wasn’t lucky with injuries: he had problems in the abductor muscles and broke two vertebras. So he quit Taekwondo to focus on his Aeronautic studies and he’s now working for a really well known company in the sector. Regarding myself, I am still studying Architecture while I train with my coach Marco Carreira at the High Performance Centre of Madrid. I hope to keep winning medals for Spain in the coming years and enjoying Taekwondo as I’ve always done. Greetings to all WTM readers and thanks a lot for the interview.
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