Ona Carbonell, three-time Olympian and 23-time World medalist, has announced her retirement from artistic swimming today in a press conference held in Madrid at the headquarters of the Spanish Olympic Committee.
The Spanish athlete competed in the 2012, 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, notably winning a silver and a bronze in 2012. In 2019, she had reached the status of then-FINA’s most decorated female athlete, wit her 23 world medals. Her last ones came that year, where she won two silvers in technical and free solo, and bronze in the highlight event.
“Today, I am no longer one of the ‘synchro’ girls but I am very happy for this stage of my life,” she said. “I feel very lucky and grateful that I don’t have to retire due to injury or some other problem. I do it in a serene, thoughtful, grateful and calm way, at peace with myself.”
The 32-year-old retires after a career on the senior international artistic swimming scene spanning over 15 years. She competed in seven World Championships between 2007 and 2019, and became a World Champion in 2009 in the free combination event. She is also 12-time European medalist and a three-time European champion in the team events. Her final international competition was the Tokyo Olympic Games, where she placed seventh with the Spanish team.
“I have been in synchro for 23 years, 18 in elite,” she continued. “Since I was 14 years old, synchro has been the central axis of my life. It has given me a lot. Here, I have known physical and mental pain, but also the gratitude of a job well done, humility, companionship, the value of sacrifice, trust, mutual respect. I will always carry them with me and I will always be grateful for all of this.”
She started artistic swimming at the age of 10 at the club of CN Kallipolis. At 16, she won her first international medal at the 2006 World Junior Championships in duet. Then, she joined the Spanish senior squad ahead of the 2007 season. A few months later, she was already competing in the team routines, and winning medals, at the World Championships in Melbourne. The following year, she won gold with the team at the European Championships, but unfortunately missed the cut to be part of the Beijing Olympic team.
She persisted, and attended her first Olympic Games in London in 2012. There, she won a historical silver medal in duet alongside current U.S head coach Andrea Fuentes and a bronze in team. In 2013, she made her debut as a soloist, notably swimming to “Barcelona” by Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé. At the World Championships held in Barcelona that year, she won seven medals.
She continued on, never missing a major international meet. At her second Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, she placed fifth in duet swimming with Spanish icon Gemma Mengual.
In September 2019, she stepped away temporarily from the sport to rest and start a family. She gave birth to her first son Kai a few months later. In the fall of 2020, she went back to training in the hopes of helping her team qualify to the Olympic Games. She returned at the 2021 European Championships in Budapest, winning bronze in the technical team. The Spanish team ultimately secured a spot to Tokyo at the Olympic Games Qualification Tournament a few weeks later. In August, she thus headed to her third Olympics, less than a year after giving birth.
During that time, she has also been a fierce advocate for mothers in elite sports. She notably championed efforts for better equality between men and women when it came to parenthood in sports.
“Years ago, I realized that women’s sport does not have the same voice and I have fought so that we can have equality,” she said. “Then thanks to what I experienced with my own motherhood, I have seen how little progress had been made in sports in this regard. I have worked for it and I want to thank the Spanish Olympic Committee and Alejandro Blanco for the creation of the Maternity and Sport Commission. We will work to help athletes who want to be mothers without them having to give up their sports career.”
Her journey back to elite after having Kai was portrayed in the movie ‘Ona Carbonell: Starting Over.’ Intimate and emotional, this first-person account also sheds light on what it means to simultaneously be a parent and an elite athlete, and on the struggles mothers face in the sports industry.
Carbonell is now a mom of two. Besides her role within the Spanish Olympic Committee, she also hopes to continue making headways in the world of Fashion Design. Artistic swimming fans have already seen some of her work, as she has designed numerous of her swimsuits throughout the years.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia
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