Next Saturday at 10.20 in the morning, Dani Rodríguez will be prepared and ready to run the 60 meter dash at the European Indoor Championships in Torun (Poland), which begins this Thursday. Seven days earlier, on Saturday February 27, at the same time in Granada, this recent double speed champion from Spain arrives at the stadium where he had planned to train but a provincial football match prevents him from using the empty athletics track. You try another installation without success – you have not booked the day before. Strip plan C and get it 15 minutes from Granada. When it arrives, there is also football. Impossible to use the running track that no one is using. A week before the European Championship, no one has remembered to offer Dani the minimum that an athlete needs with a goal of this caliber.
Dani Rodríguez (Casanueva, Granada, 26 years old) has won a few days ago, against his own prognosis, the 60m and 200m gold medals in the Spanish Indoor Championships, a double that had only happened once before, in 1995 (Jordi Mayoral). In the 60m, in addition, he achieved a minimum to attend the European that now begins. The joy of qualifying and the certainty of Dani Rodríguez and his coach, Manolo Jiménez, that they are actually alone and with the right support make them not despair over the difficulties of not finding a track. This Saturday before the championship, Dani is accompanied in his failed attempt to exercise by his coach, his psychologist, María José Jiménez, and Cristina Lara, an international sprinter. It is almost loneliness compared to the usual training sessions accompanied by Strong and fast , a group of 15 sprinters from all over the country trained by Manolo Jiménez among which there are at least 10 medalists in different competitions. Gold, silver and bronze in the 60s in the recent Spanish championship were achieved by strong and fast athletes.
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There are no photos of Dani Rodríguez with 8 or 10 years winning a sprint race. Neither 14 nor 16. Dani came to athletics at almost 18 years old. He ran a speed test at his high school and won. And from there, to an Olympics with another center where he also beat others who had spike shoes with his street shoes. "I had no idea about athletics," says Dani Rodríguez. Manolo Jiménez was already warned about that kid when they asked him to talk to him. They met in the exact same place where they spoke with EL PAÍS a few days before the European Championship, at the facilities of the Ciudad de Atarfe Athletics Club, where they are always ready to help them. A talk and a jump into the pit while standing convinced Jiménez that there was talent there.
That season, 2013, Dani ran the 200m, his best test, in 22.43s outdoors. His best mark is 20.59s, in 2018 (fifth best in Spanish history in a ranking dominated by Bruno Hortelano's national record of 20.04s). Two seconds worth 20 meters. That is the distance that has turned the student who did not know what athletics was in professional with several championships in Spain and who, for the second time, attends a European, after going to the one in Berlin outdoors in 2018. In Poland, Dani does not have a specific objective for the championship, beyond "going up the round as far as possible and enjoying it." With his mark, in other editions he has reached the final.
Manolo Jiménez, who sees more potential for his athlete in the 200m than in the 60m (6.67s is his best mark), describes his sprinter as "very elastic , but above all very adaptive, both from the physical point of view and his willingness to do everything he is told ”. He is also an especially kind and calm young man. For his training partner, Cristina Lara, he is a guy "always in good spirits, positive and smiling." "It is very easy to train with him," he concludes. It is said by an athlete who has been a six-time champion of Spain and who joined Strong and Rapids in September of last year.
The life of athletes in Spain is very special. The starting point is simple: no matter how good it is, the athlete manages alone. The teams are nothing more than a more or less scarce economic support and clothing from a distance. Sponsorships are scarce, often local, and institutional support can be greatly improved. Manolo Jiménez says that the "institutions, including the Spanish federation, pretend they are there, but they are not there." Rodríguez lives off "fair and no-frills" athletics and lives with his parents in Casanueva, just under half an hour from the capital. Like him, most of the strong and fast live sharing a flat with each other and collaborating as coaches in Granada's athletics clubs.
The two-time Spanish champion of 60m and 200m, a distance that is not run in the Europeans, has expanded his team this season. It is María José Jiménez, sister of the coach and sports psychologist. Together they do what she calls "invisible training, aimed at improving self-confidence, motivation, control of emotions, and physical and cognitive activation." Dani admits that in these little more than three months of work in this area he has improved a lot. "I have more peace of mind, I have improved my control of my nerves a lot," he says. Peace of mind that you will have after the championship. Before leaving for Poland the coach already warns him. “Rest, just a few days, we have to get into the open air season” .
Granada, sprinter center
Year after year, Manolo Jiménez has brought together in Granada a group of around 15 top-level sprinters in Spain. They are the Strong and Fast , by name on social media, and it's not about them being held in the highest regard. "He refers," says Jiménez, "to the fact that speed is not a quality in itself, but one of the manifestations of the sprinter's strength." Year after year the number of sprinters in the group increases, says Jiménez. “It must be because we have a different and experimental way of training, always within the fundamentals of training according to science. But we like to innovate and we are transgressors ”. Also, note, there is a knock-on effect: every time an athlete joins the group and improves their results, someone new joins.