From Soccer to Tennis to Cycling, Spain Is Suddenly Dominating Sports

The country that produced Rafael Nadal and several Tour de France winners may be on its way to capturing the European soccer championship.


"In variety, brilliance and grandeur," wrote V.S. Pritchett in The Spanish Temper, "the Spanish landscape is unparalleled in Europe." Nearly 60 years after Mr. Pritchett's observation, one could substitute the word "sports" for landscape and also be correct. Soccer reigns in Spain, and Spain reigns in soccer. After tying Italy1-1 in the opening round of Euro Cup 2012, crushing Ireland 4-0, and beating Croatia 1-0, Spain is the favorite to win the 14th European soccer championship. (They play France in the quarterfinals this Saturday.)

This will come as no surprise to soccer aficionados; the 2010 World Cup champions draw on the greatest pool of soccer talent in the world with such powerhouse professional teams asReal Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Savilla. (Real Madrid alone has won 9 UEFA championships.) At a time of near economic collapse - the unemployment rate is a staggering 24.1 percent—Spain's incredible success in soccer and other major sports is the greatest source of national pride.

In addition to soccer, Spaniards can take pride in their country's success in:

Basketball If U.S. fans didn't know how good Spanish basketball was before 2008, they found out at the Beijing Olympics when the Spaniards shocked Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and others, scoring 107 points in a heroic losing effort and taking the silver medal. There are currently five Spaniards in the NBA, including the Lakers' Pau Gasol, Toronto's Jose Calderon, and Minnesota's Ricky Rubio, the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft.

Tennis Spanish men and women have been at the top of tennis for two decades. Since the Spanish sporting revolution began in the 1980s, the Spanish men's and women's teams have gone through an amazing run. The men have won five of the last 12 Davis Cups, while the women, since 1991, have made the finals of the Fed Cup 11 times, winning five.

This year's French Open winner, Rafael Nadal, has staked a claim as the best player of our time and is currently rated No. 2 in the world. At least five other Spaniards are currently ranked in the top 25. Spanish tennis techniques are regarded as so state-of-the-art that Scottish star Andy Murray chose to train in Spain.

Cycling Spaniards have won four of the last six Tour de France races; that would be five out of six, but Alberto Contador had his 2010 title stripped when he tested positive for the performance enhancing drug clenbuterol (which he claims he got from eating contaminated beef). Spanish riders have also won eight of the last 12 races in their own country's prestigious Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain), and the greatest of cyclists from Spain, Miguel Indurain, won the Tour de France every year from 1991 through 1995.

These are just the four most popular sports in Spain. You can also find Spanish names in the ranks of Formula One racing, where two-time world champions Fernando Alonso is currently No. 2 in the F1 rankings; golf, where Sergio Garcia was ranked as one of the world's top ten golfers for much of this century and is currently No. 22;.and even rugby, a sport in which there are more than 20,000 registered union players. Rugby hasn't yet produced any nationally known names from Spain, but the game can claim at least one star: former player turned actor, Academy Award-winner Javier Bardem.

Presented by

Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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