Two years ago, a sixteen-year-old girl arrived in Tokyo, largely unknown and as a surprise addition to Spain’s roster. Little was known about young Elena Ruiz, except that she was the youngest water polo player in the Olympic tournament and one of the youngest athletes across all 339 Olympic events.
Fast forward two years, and Elena Ruiz is now a well-known figure in the women’s game. At the age of 18, this Spanish superstar returns to Japan as a European and World League Champion, ready to showcase her extraordinary talent to the world.
“I am very excited to start the World Championships,” the young Spaniard told Total Waterpolo. “I believe we had a good tournament in the World Cup, so this is positive for the team.”
As the European Champions, they head to Japan’s sixth-largest city with high expectations, aiming for the gold medal. Ruiz confirms, “The expectations for the team are clear – we want to win the tournament, and if this is not possible, we want to get a medal, but the principal objective is the first place.”
Spain have only won one World Championship title, and that was back in 2013 in front of a home crowd in Barcelona.
Spain had to settle for a disappointing 5th place finish at last year’s World Championships in Budapest. However, they went on to take gold in the next two competitions they played in – the European Championships in Split and the World League Super Finals in Tenerife. Ruiz believes that the disappointment in Budapest helped build the Spaniards’ resilience:
“I think that the key lesson learned was that you can’t give up and you have to continue working every day if someday you want to win a tournament. I think that you have to have discipline to get the things that you want.”
Spain is placed in Group B alongside the Netherlands, Israel, and Kazakhstan. Their first match-up of the tournament, against the Netherlands, will determine the group winner. Spain was unable to defeat the Netherlands last week in the World Cup Semi-finals, falling 12-8.
“I think that this first game against the Netherlands will be a very difficult and hard game because they are a really good team with good players,” Ruiz assessed. “We are training a lot for this type of game, and I hope the game will go as we want and we get a good result.”
There is a clear parallel surrounding Ruiz’s return to Japan, where she kickstarted her international playing career. But according to the new Sant Andreu signing, her mindset is the same as it was at the last Olympic Games:
“I think that in these two years, I have improved some things that I didn’t have. Because I didn’t have the same experience as now, but personally, I think that I have the same mentality as always, I have to continue working every day to achieve the goals that I have.”
Fukuoka will certainly be a memorable experience for the Ruiz sisters – Elena herself and her older sister, Ariadna – who is on the team. “It will be very special to play with my sister at this world championship because I like to play with her a lot,” Ruiz said. With Elena now joining Sant Andreu, she will play alongside her sister for the first time since they both played together with their hometown club, CN Rubi.
“I feel very comfortable playing with my sister. For me, my sister is my inspiration every day since the day that I started playing water polo. Thanks to her, now I’m playing this sport and for this reason, it is very special to play in the national team with her.”
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