London 2012: Mexico fights for gold in taekwondo
By Dialogo July 17, 2012
MEXICO CITY – María del Rosario Espinoza will be carrying much more than the Mexican delegation’s flag during the opening ceremony of the Olympics in London on July 27.
The 24-year-old taekwondo competitor will also be carrying her country’s hope of winning another gold medal in the competition.
Rosario Espinoza will be the sixth woman to serve as the flag-bearer for Mexico and the first representing the sport of taekwondo, which she began practicing five years ago, with her father’s encouragement.
Born in La Brecha, a small town of little more than 2,000 in the municipality of Guasave, in the state of Sinaloa, Rosario Espinoza began dedicating herself to the sport when she was 15.
“I love to fight,” she said during an interview with Infosurhoy.com at the Olympic Village training center in Mexico City, where she is preparing for the London Games. “Training and competing are fun for me. Taekwondo was always my favorite sport.”
Rosario Espinoza took home a gold medal at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 – and she’s confident she’ll do the same in London.
“I’m going for the gold. I’m training hard right now. I’m exhausted when I finish,” she said. “But I’m still enthusiastic because I know that the extra effort is what leads to a gold medal.”
In addition to Rosario Espinoza, 16 other athletes will be competing for the gold in taekwondo in the 73-kilogram (160-pound) class in London.
During this final phase of her preparation, she has two to three training sessions per day, which can total seven hours, under the watchful eye of Cuban coach Pedro Gato.
“He demands a lot, but I know that he wants what’s best for me,” Rosario Espinoza said. “Gato maps out strategies for each opponent and makes game-time adjustments when necessary. But more than anything, he gives me confidence. He believes in what I do and that helps me believe, too.”
Gato has been a member of Mexico’s taekwondo coaching staff since 2007. In May 2011, he became Rosario Espinoza’s exclusive coach, at her request.
“There’s a tendency in the sports world of being conservative when it comes to making predictions, but I don’t know anyone who trains to lose,” said Gato, responding to a question about medals. “We’re going for the gold!”
Rosario Espinoza has a collection of international medals. In 2007, she won gold at the World Championships and Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. In 2008, she won in Beijing. And, in 2010, she won the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
Gato acknowledged the spotlight is on Rosario Espinoza because of her success. She is being watched by the media and, particularly, her opponents. As a result, her preparation has become even more rigorous.
“There’s no triumph without sacrifice,” he said. “María is preparing herself very well.”
In addition to physical preparations, Rosario Espinoza is training her mind. Every day, she works with a psychologist to improve her concentration and how to deal with potential distractions.
“I can be my biggest obstacle: It’s up to me to do the right thing,” she said. “I try to avoid external pressure. I know what I want and what my coach wants – that’s the focus.”
Taking a break from taekwondo is also part of her regimen leading to the Olympics. On Saturdays, her workout is light. Sunday is her day off.
In her free time, Rosario Espinoza goes to the movies, has lunch with her friends, strolls around Mexico City or visits other places nearby.
Her family also calls her each week from Sinaloa.
“We talk about everything except taekwondo,” she said.
In the coming days, however, the sport will have her undivided attention. She will travel with Gato to Barcelona, Spain, on July 21, where they’ll stay until July 27, when Rosario Espinoza will travel to serve as the flag-bearer for the Mexican delegation during the opening ceremonies of the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
She will return to Barcelona for more training before returning to London on Aug. 2 to prepare for her fights, which will conclude, at the latest, on Aug. 11.
One of her possible opponents is Brazilian fighter Natália Falavigna, who took bronze in Beijing.
“She’s a complicated opponent, particularly because of her experience,” Rosario Espinoza said.
Rosario Espinoza still doesn’t know what she will do after the London Games and tries not to think about it. One thing is for certain: She will continue to train and compete in taekwondo.
“I seize every moment in life and, when I look back, I can see that taekwondo has already given me so many happy moments,” she said. “I don’t even want to think about quitting.”