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The Dos Paredes Interview: Gorka Esteban

Gorka Esteban Tercilla was born in Ezcaray, La Rioja, and is one of an exciting generation of young pelotaris emerging from that province. He made his professional debut for Aspe in September 2010 at the age of 20 after a string of outstanding results as an amateur, including victory in the Under-22 World Championship and the Torneo Diario Vasco in 2008. His best result to date as a professional came in the 2011 Promocion Pairs where he and fellow Riojan Miguel Merino finished as runners up. Dos Paredes thanks Gorka for taking time out from his busy schedule to answer these questions!

How did you start playing pelota? Did it run in your family?
I like pelota because of my dad, he has always played pelota, frontenis and pala and I started playing because he used to take me with him to the frontón.

How old were you when you started?
I started at a very early age; I think that my first game dressed in white was at the age of 4.

When did you decide you wanted be become a professional?
I don’t think you get to decide that. All the children that start playing pelota, like in any other sports, want to play in the highest levels. In order to achieve it, you have to work hard and be lucky.

Which players were your inspiration growing up and who do you look up to now as a young professional?
As a child, you always admire those who win titles. Later, you have a look at different things, how they play or things they do. Right now, the top pelota players are Irujo and Olaizola II, but most of the Rioja players look up to Titin III.

Did you find the leap from the amateur to the professional ranks a big one in terms of level?
In the first games, you notice the difference between the professional and amateur ranks. In amateur matches, it is easier to score a point. In the professionals, all games are really hard, faster and longer

What do you consider to be the best performance of your career to date and why?
I really don’t know, I couldn’t say. One of the most beautiful games was the final game of the Diario Vasco, the final game of the sub-22 championship, the debut, the Promocion pairs final with Miguel Merino.

What would you say is your best shot?
I think it is the left hook

Obviously the Promocion pairs championship didn’t go as you might have hoped, having been runner up in 2011, but what are your goals for the remainder of 2012?
My goal since I started is to work on my shots that need more improving and little by little to improve my game. I know I need to improve in the singles competitions.

Pelotaris seem like a close knit community, especially those from Rioja. Is it difficult when your friends become your sporting rivals?
You need to know the difference. Outside the fronton nothing changes and they’re your friends, but inside the court, they are your rivals and you want to beat them.

There seems to be a plethora of young talent emerging from La Rioja at the moment, with you, David Merino, Rico IV and Untoria all having turned professional in the past couple of years. Good things must be going on in the region at grass roots level?
Miguel Merino, Cecilio, David Merino and I come from the same club and they have been with us from the beginning and have given us their support. We all have also trained in Titin’s center, where we joined Untoria, who comes from Najera. Joaquín (Plaza), Titin III and, in my case Goyo, have helped us to reach here. We have not spent so much time with Rico, he trains with people from his empresa. In La Rioja, people have been doing things well, they have great potential and you will hear a lot about them.

Describe a typical day in the life of Gorka Esteban. How long do you train for and what does your training involve?
We train every day except for the game day and the day before, when he just go running, do some exercise and stretch. A common practice day would be to start training at 10:30, when we play pelota more or less for 90 min, or we do conditioning, technique… It depends on the day. More or less, we finish every day at about 13:30. We have lunch and then, at 16:00 or so, I go to college. After classes, dinner and to sleep.

How do you look after your hands? Have you ever had any major problems?
I have not had serious injuries so far with my hands, and when they are painful, I usually go to Logroño to see physios Pedro and Ana. They are really good and they treat us well. My worst injury was one I had a short time after my debut when I had two straight torn ligaments and I had to rest for two months.

What do you think you would have ended up doing if you hadn’t become a professional pelotari?
Honestly, I don’t have a clue. I imagine I would have spent more time studying and I would have kept on playing pelota as an amateur. Pelota is what I like most and I would have kept on playing.

Do you combine your time on the fronton with any other sports, either for fitness or for fun? What other sports do you follow?
In the past I practised many sports. Nowadays, I do few and if I practise any, it is for a short period of time. I like all sports, I love sport, there is something appealing in all of them, mainly in all those that take place in the fronton. As far as following other sports, tennis, basketball, soccer, handball….

How do you like to spend your time away from the fronton? You are studying?
I like being with my friends, relatives, going to the movies, going to the mountains, travelling, etc… Studying is a must-do, even more so if we take into account this economic crisis in which we are living.

If you could invite any five people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be?
The five members of my family that are always with me.

Follow Gorka on Twitter: @gorka_ezka

Many thanks to Igor Lansorena for his help with the translation

Images 1 and 2 are mine, image 3 courtesy of Aspepelota under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Fernando Goñi Interview

Fernando Goñi  (Goñi III) was born in 1973 in Zubiri (Navarre). After an amateur career in which he won several important competitions, he turned professional in 1998. He has since won the Pairs Championship on four occasions (2001 with Olaizola I, 2004 with Titin III and 2005/2009 with Martinez de Irujo). In addition to his sporting career he owns and runs the Hostal Quinto Real in Eugi (Navarre).  Dos Paredes thanks Fernando for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions, in the first interview ever to appear on this blog. I hope there will be more to come.

How did you start playing pelota and how old were you?
I started playing in my hometown, Zubiri, just like any other kid, doing the typical things kids do, playing football, pelota, bike riding. Maybe it was important that I lived in front of the church and I used to go to play pelota against the atrium. We always liked doing sports at home. I guess that my first games, dressed in white, were when I was 6 or 7 years old and when I was 9 years old I won the schools’ championship of Navarre.

Who were your role models when you were young?
It was the time of the rivalry between Retegi II and Galarza III. I also liked very much Martinikorena’s elegance and the efficiency and rockyness of Maiz II.

At what point did you decide you wanted to be a professional?
You always think that becoming a professional pelota player is something important, but if I became one is because I was never obsessed with it. My goal was always to do my best so that I could never blame myself for anything and be able to enjoy myself while I was playing.

How hard is it to make the jump into the professional ranks? Is there a big gap in terms of standard?
Obviously, the gap is big although it depends on what pelota players you come across at the time. I remember that in the same week of my debut, Barriola, Berasaluze VIII, Patxi Ruiz, Otxandorena, and Esain made their debuts as well. Aimar’s turn was two months after that. The level amongst the amateurs was high.

Of your four Pairs Championship victories, which do you consider to be the greatest and why?
The four of them are important. The first one was special because was is the culmination of something that starts when you are a child, where you can somehow thank all the people who have helped you to get there. And the last one, because of the difficult situation I had to overcome on a personal level to win it.

Tell us about your typical day. For how long do you train, and what does your training consist of?
I wake up at about 7:15 and get my sons Amets, 5, and Kepa, 2, ready for school and kindergarten. My wife works in the mornings. Then I go to Zubiri to the gym or to the fronton to train, although on Tuesdays we always go to Labrit. My training sessions are not very long, more or less an hour and a half. Now, I try to search for quality rather than quantity when I train, although it depends on the time of the year. Before the morning is over I get to the hotel to start working. I usually have lunch there and I go home mid-afternoon to spend some time with my family, depending on the time of the year and the amount of work at the hotel. I spend almost all the weekends at the hotel and go from there to the games I have to play, the same thing in summer.

Do you combine your time on the fronton with any other sports, either for fitness or for fun? What other sports do you follow?

I have always considered myself a sportsman rather than a pelotari. I usually follow soccer, cycling, motorcycling, Formula 1, athletics, handball, basketball, etc… and all I can. During these years, I have hardly practised any other sport but I miss it as my friends and brothers have always been good sportsmen, and still are, and I would love to have enjoyed more sport with them.

How do you relax away from the fronton? 
I usually like to spend as much time as I can with my family or go walking in the mountains to be on my own, enjoy the outdoors, take some pictures or meet some friends in Zubiri. At night, I spend some time on the computer, Facebook and Twitter, while I listen to music. I do not watch much TV.

How would you like to be remembered as a player?
I don’t know…everyone surely has his opinion. So simple and so difficult at the same time; as a good “pelota player”.
Have you played any of the other varieties of pelota? Where you come from, how do the different modalities of the game compare in popularity?

In my hometown, we have always played pelota mano and some paleta goma, but not so much.
Do pelotaris form a close knit community? How possible is it to form close friendships with people who are regularly your sporting rivals?

The relationship among the pelota players is really good. What happens on the court stays there. Besides, pelota is a minority sport and we know each other quite well so it is quite easy to have friends among your rivals.

Who would you regard as the most complete all round pelotari amongst today’s players, and why?
In my opinion, Juan Martinez de Irujo is nowadays the pelota player who has the greatest potential.

Which young players do you think will go on to great things? Who should we look out for in the future? Among the pelota players that have made their debut lately, the one whom I like most is Idoate. He’s got very good condition and enthusiasm.

Tell us a little about your hotel. Is it difficult to combine the running of it with your sporting career? I have had the hotel for 10 years and I have been the manager for 5 years. It is my future and I like it doing it. I can do both things at the same time, although when difficulties come up, it requires much time, such as any other job. It would have been impossible without the help of my family.

If you could invite any five people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be? Iñaki Ochoa de Olza, Miguel de La Cuadra Salcedo, Indurain, my dad and some of my best friends.

Follow Fernando on Twitter and Facebook

With many thanks to Igor Lansorena for his translation

Fernando Goñi celebrates becoming Pairs Champion in 2009

Fernando Goñi celebrates becoming Pairs Champion in 2009

Image by J.A. Goñi, Diario de Navarra