Outspoken Spanish veteran Mélodie Pulgarin is embarking on a new phase of her career as a freshman gymnast at the Univ. of Denver, but she also hopes to play an ongoing part in the rejuvenation of the Spanish national team.
Former Spanish national team member Melodie Pulgarin competes on beam for the University of Denver
Pulgarin, who trained in Barcelona under coach Javier Gómez, competed in two World Championships and three European Championships prior to enrolling at Denver last fall. She placed 51st all-around and eighth with her team at the 2006 Worlds in Aarhus, Denmark, and 49th all-around and 15th with her team at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart, from which the top 12 teams qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Pulgarin competed on three events at the 2002 Junior European Championships in Patras, Greece; and placed 13th all-around, sixth on vault and seventh on floor exercise at the 2004 Junior Europeans in Amsterdam. She finished 15th on vault at the 2010 Europeans in Birmingham, where she also competed on uneven bars.
In World Cup meets, Pulgarin placed second on vault and eighth on floor exercise at the 2008 Joaquim Blume Memorial in Barcelona; and fourth on vault and 12th on uneven bars at the 2010 French International. Last July she placed second all-around, and first on uneven bars and floor exercise, at the Spanish Championships.
Pulgarin is enjoying her cultural, academic and athletic transitions at Denver, where her fellow international teammates include Simona Castro (Chile), Annamari Maaranen (Finland) and Louise Mercer (Great Britain). Her Denver coaches are head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart, and assistant coaches Jay Hogue and Carl Leland.
In this IG Online interview, the outspoken Pulgarin comments on the past, present and future of her gymnastics career, at Denver and in Spain.
IG: What and who brought you to Denver?
MP: I was competing at the Joaquim Blume Memorial, a World Cup competition in Barcelona in 2008, and Nilson (Medeiros Savage), an ex-coach from Denver, came with (Venezuelan Olympian and Denver team member) Jessica Lopez. They saw me practice, and saw that I was studying, because I was preparing for the Selectividad (standardized test required for university entrance in Spain). So they asked my coach if I was a good student, and my coach said yes. They offered me a scholarship. It was a really long wait till I was able to come to Denver, because the NCAA had to see if I was eligible. I took the Selectividad in Spain to go to college there, but I also took the SAT (Standard Aptitude Test) for the U.S. I spent a year in university in Spain before I came here. That's because I did my last year of high school in two years, and the NCAA thought that wasn't OK, so they told me that I could do a year of college and then come in as a transfer instead of as a freshman. Because I did that year of college I had to work a lot, because I needed good grades. And then I came in September (2010).
IG: How did you manage to adjust to a different culture, academics and gymnastics all at the same time when you got to Denver?
MP: It was really hard in the beginning. It's not just a different culture, but a different way to see gymnastics and a different way to compete — as well as new teammates and the language. It was everything at the same time. Fall quarter was really, really hard. I had five injuries — really bad injuries — so I just started to train in December. I went home for a week at Thanksgiving (late November), and after Thanksgiving I was ready to do it. I saw it in a different way, as a great opportunity. When I came back, everything just flowed.
IG: Your routines this season seem easy for you, as though you can do more...
MP: I could do more. The thing is that, at the beginning, I was practicing as if I was in Elite (international level) with all my skills. But then I had these five injuries, so I couldn't do everything. Also, what really counts here is to do everything clean. I'm still working on my skills like a full-in and double layout on floor, and all of my beam skills, and I'm doing bars, too. But for competition, I really need to make everything really clean, so I just do what I can do really clean.
IG: It's not a coincidence that you perform your floor routine to (famous Spanish song) "Malagueña", is it?
MP: (smiles) Our choreographer in Spain, Kima Gratacos, always picked our music, and this was supposed to be my music for my last year. I wanted to do it because (1996 Spanish Olympian and 1996 European floor exercise co-bronze medalist) Joana Juarez had it, and she is my role model, and I wanted to have it.
Pulgarin on floor exercise at the 2004 Junior Europeans in Amsterdam
IG: What do you think made the Spanish team stronger in previous years than it has been recently? (The Spanish team placed ninth or higher at every Olympic Games from 1984-2004, but did not qualify for the 2008 Games.)
MP: It was a different time. When I was a junior and senior, we wanted so badly to go to the world championships and the Olympics. We did everything to get there. But now, the gymnasts think it's not worth it to train eight hours every day, not being able to eat almost everything, and coaches yelling bad things at you. So they just quit. We had a lot of gymnasts in Barcelona and (the national team training center in) Madrid, but now gymnasts from Madrid have quit because they don't think it's worth it. And (Spanish team officials) aren't supporting us in Barcelona, where we have a really good team.
IG: What do you suggest to help the team get better results in the future?
MP: I think we need a change, because gymnasts now need another kind of motivation. You go to Worlds, and it's just another competition. We need to train like Italy or France, and have more opportunities to compete at the highest level.
IG: What are your thoughts on competing for Spain in the future?
MP: I would really like to compete again at Worlds and the Europeans and wherever, because I really think I'm not done yet. But it doesn't depend on me. The boss in Spain, (national team head coach) Jesus Carballo (Sr.), doesn't like me too much. They don't like me in Madrid. They never wanted me to be on the team. They just called me when they needed me, which was every team competition, but then when I had to go to World Cups or things like that, they never called me because they didn't want me. I would really like to compete, though. I'm planning to compete in the Catalunya championships this summer, and in the Spanish championships.
IG: What can you do to improve your relationships in Spain?
MP: I had a really good relationship with the last president of the (Spanish gymnastics) federation. He didn't like me at the beginning, either, because I always said no to going to Madrid. I never wanted to go there. I wanted to train with my team. But at the end he saw I was a good competitor and that I said no because I had my reasons. He was good with me. (Recently elected federation president) Jesus Carballo, Jr., and I had a good relationship before, but you know that (Jesus Carballo, Sr.) is his father...
IG: You're older now, and if Spain doesn't have too many gymnasts, you could probably really help the team...
MP: That's what I think, and what almost everyone in Spain thinks. For the 2009 Worlds in London, I told them (officials) I was planning on going to Denver and could train for Worlds in Denver, but I could not go to Madrid for three months because there's no way. They just said it wasn't fair for the other gymnasts, and if I cannot prove I would be OK... you know, just excuses. I'm older now and I have other priorities. For now it's Denver, because they are paying for my education and I'm doing gymnastics for them. They deserve for me to be for them and not for Spain. (Spanish team officials) know that I'm ready to do everything to help make Spain go up again, but they just don't like my way.
IG: Do you see potential for them to change their view of you?
MP: I hope there is, because they really need gymnasts — not just me, but Thais Escolar, Cristiana Mironescu and the other gymnasts who have been competing internationally for a long time. We know what it is like to go to Worlds and we know what we have to do to make it work. I think they really need it, but I cannot do much. I can just keep on talking. That's another thing they don't like — that I always talk (laughs).
IG: In addition to the talk, though, do you think they see your value to the team going forward?
MP: I hope. I really hope so. Not just for me because, as I said, I have other priorities. But I think Spain needs it. I don't want Spain to lose out on another Olympic Games (by not earning a berth), again. Every country has gone down at one point, but they've changed it quickly. They went down and they thought, "We have to change something." They changed and went up again, but we haven't done that.
IG: Do you think you have a chance to compete for Spain at this fall's worlds in Tokyo?
MP: I hope so. I will try... I will try!
International Gymnast Magazine Related Features:
"10 Questions: Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart" — interview (November 2010)
"Viva Venezuela" — Jessica Lopez profile (March 2008)
"Flight of Faith" — Maaranen profile (November 2007)
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