Atano III, San Sebastian, 18:00 (CET) OLAIZOLA II v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO
Live on ETB-Sat: https://www.eitb.eus/television/etb-sat
At 6pm on Sunday, the world of pelota mano will stand still. The Basque Country over, time and place will become an irrelevance as fans young and old turn their minds and hearts to a world within a world, a world bounded by green walls and baying crowds, banners and television cameras. On Sunday, the two men who have ruled and defined pelota mano in the 21st century compete for the holy grail of their sport, the Manomanista title, in San Sebastian. Both Aimar Olaizola and Juan Martinez de Irujo have been here before and know the sweet taste of success but each will lay their entire being on the line in the quest for txapela number three. It is the dream final; since the turn of the century, 28 major championships have been held, and between them, Aimar and Irujo have won 13 of them, this despite the presence of other towering figures of the modern game such as Titin III and perennial bridesmaid Barriola. Their qualification for the Manomanista final means that they have reached every major final this season, Aimar having beaten Irujo in the Cuatro y Medio final in December and Irujo (with Goni III) having got the better of Aimar (with Mendizabal II) in the pairs final in the spring. It is divine justice that they should meet again.
The defining duel of our era continues on the greatest of all stages; if you watch only one match of pelota mano this year, let this be it.
The two great pelotaris poised to clash in the Manomanista final on Sunday met at 12 noon today to select the balls they will use at Atano III. Aimar Olaizola selected balls weighing 106.4g and 105.3g, while Irujo went for heavier choices at 106.7g and 105.9g.
At a press conference which followed the selection, Olaizola declared his satisfaction with his balls and looked ahead to another meeting with his arch rival. He declared Irujo “hard to beat”, due to the pace of his play and his strength in the air. He highlighted lack of recent match practice as his major problem heading into his meeting with Irujo but seemed satisfied with his training and stated that the speed of the fronton at Atano III would suit him. Aimar is in the unusual position of having reached the final after playing only one match, this due to the injuries of his would be opponents, Barriola and Beloki. He professed that it felt ‘weird’ to reach the final in this way and stated that Irujo is the clear favourite owing to his greater competative experience of late. Aimar, due to the misfortune of cancelled games, has not played a competative match in over a month, and despite not having lost a game since the pairs final, the nature of his form is anybody’s guess. The Goizuetarra admitted his own doubts, declaring his fear at his possible lack of top end pace as a result of his enforced lay-off.
However, Irujo is in no mood to underestimate his opponent, who whatever his form, remains a great champion. He acknowledged the sense behind his favouritism with the bookmakers, having overcome three potential banana skins in Xala, Gonzalez and Bengoetxea VI, with barely a hair out of place. However, the man from Ibero does not place any store by odds, insisting that he will play the game as if his chances are 50-50. He recognised Aimar’s ability to rise to the big occasion, as well as his ruthlessness, given half an opportunity to impose himself. Irujo declared him “hard to beat” and a pelotari at the pinnacle of the game, who will come out and play “100 or 120%” to claim the top prize.
Sources: Asegarce, Diario de Noticias
Aimar and Irujo, ready to lock horns again