On The Record with BIWPA’s Quim Colet: Spanish Water Polo is Ascendant!

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Quim Colet of Barcelona International Water Polo Academy keeps a close eye on his athletes. Photo Courtesy: BIWPA

IRVINE, CA. Now is a great moment for Spanish water polo. Both their men’s and women’s teams have advanced to the finals of the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, the first time in the three-decade history of men’s and women’s competition at FINA Worlds that a single country has accomplished this feat.

Far away physically from the action—but still very much engaged by his country’s water polo success—Quim Colet is immersed in the American scene. He’s at a booth for his Barcelona-based water polo academy at USA Water Polo’s Junior National Olympics, the world’s largest youth polo tournament. In 2016, he became sports director for Barcelona International Water Polo Academy (BIWPA). For the previous eight years Colet was the Technical Water Polo Director for the Catalan Swimming Federation.

He is perhaps best known as an assistant coach to the Spanish men’s teams that competed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the London Games in 2012. Those teams performed well, finishing fifth both times. Since then, the Spaniards have struggled to break into the top tier of men’s teams, but recent success suggests a polo revival. In the 2018 European Championships, held in Barcelona, the Spanish men finished second to Serbia. Spain’s women’s team placed third as the Netherlands claimed the title.

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Colet mentoring BIWPA academy’s students. Photo Courtesy: BIWPA

The results at this year’s World Championships are more impressive. Coached by David Martín Lozano, Spain’s men have beaten Serbia and Croatia in consecutive matches to reach the FINA Worlds final against Hungary—the first time the Spanish have advanced this far since 2009. The Spanish women, coached by Miguel Angel Oca Gaia, will face the U.S., the two-time defending champions, in a World Championship final for the second straight time.

Both teams have now qualified for the 2020 Olympics, an additional prize at this year’s worlds. Two teams earn berths on the men’s side, with one women’s team advancing. Spain earns the women’s berth because the Americans previously qualified by winning the 2019 FINA World League Super Final.

At BIWPA, Colet oversees a robust program of youth polo activities in Barcelona. Offering one week camps during Easter break and July and one semester or up to one year for high school athletes, BIWPA designs programs that combines academics and water polo. This year, BIWPA expanded oversees, offering a week-long camp in Gainesville, Florida from July 1 – 12.

Surrounded by a team of coaches and support staff from BIWPA, Colet spoke with Swimming World about why Barcelona is a fantastic water polo destination, how the 2020 Olympics will play out for his country and why this may be the greatest moment in recent history for Spanish water polo.

– The success of Spain’s men and women is breath-taking, especially your men who have now topped Serbia and Croatia in the same tournament.

It’s a great achievement for Spain because to ever beat Serbia is too much difficult. Now we have the two teams in the finals; the women’s team and the men’s team. It’s amazing for us—and it’s the first time for this [at the World Championships].

– Your academy is here at JOs looking to attract top players from America to got to Spain for polo.

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Colet, UC Davis’s Dan Leyson and Long Beach State’s Gavin Arroyo. Photo Courtesy: BIWPA

Barcelona is the one city in the world that has so many teams in the city—eight teams—at a high level, professional teams in the national leagues and the European Champions league. Men’s and women’s—this is very important.

In the age groups, the methodology and the training is very different to USA. Here [in Southern California] are fantastic programs in high school and the clubs but it’s different water polo in age groups from college water polo. In Europe, the head coach of the professional team normally is the director to the age group [from] 10U to 18U.

– This year at the World Championships is phenomenal for the Spanish. What will it take for your women to beat Team USA in the FINA Worlds final?

The favorite is USA of course—they are the best team in the world. But Spain is a very good team, the second-best team. The last three junior and youth world championships [were won] by Spain.

This is a good level but I think this USA generation is the best in the world. But Spain is second best; the professional team—Club Natació Sabadell—is the best team in Europe. They won five Europe championships in the last nine years. This season they won the Champions League [with] Maggie Steffens and Kiley Neushel [of Team USA].

The other difference is the competition. In [the] Barcelona area we have many teams and the completion is very strong. [The season] starts in October and finishes in June. All the weekends the boys and girls play a lot—Saturday 18U and Sunday 16U, 14U, all the weekends.

This is a big difference to [California water polo]. There’s strong competition; two divisions in the same [age] group. [They are] training hard all the weeks.

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Spain’s Alvaro Granados Ortega Photo Courtesy: Tsutomu Kishimoto / FINA

– What is your sense of how the 2020 Olympics will play out for Spain?

It’s a very good level; last year was a silver medal for youth world championships in Hungary and in European World Championship a silver medal again. Serbia and Croatia are of course the best level but I think it’s the same level for four five or six countries in Europe.

I think the new generations in Spain are as good as or better than the Serbian team. Greece is at a very good level [as is] Croatia of course or Hungary. These five countries are [all] at a similar level—one generation is better, Spain or Greece or Croatia but it’s all very close.