Tag Archives: Olaetxea

Manomanista wins for Gonzalez and Retegi Bi

Sebastien Gonzalez, who had to come from behind to beat Urrutikoetxea in the last round, took his win rather more comfortably this week, beating Pairs champion David Merino 22-14 in Bilbao. It was Merino’s first visit to Bizkaia since his remarkable triumph with Titin at the end of April and on this occasion it failed to prove such a happy hunting ground for the Riojan star. The first half of the match was extremely tight but from 12-10, Gonzalez forged ahead and had too many weapons for his opponent who defended manfully but could not keep him down. Merino came back in the latter part of the game but by then it was too late and it is Gonzalez who proceeds to the quarter finals, where he will face 2008 winner Oinatz Bengoetxea.

Meanwhile, at Beotibar in Tolosa, Retegi Bi made short work of Mikel Olaetxea. The Aspe forward took the match 22-8 and will now play Aimar Olaizola in the quarter finals. Olaetxea found himself in an almost perpetual defensive position and had no answer to the grip which Retegi asserted on the game, although to his credit he fought hard until the final ball.

Beotibar, scene of Julen Retegis triumph

Beotibar, scene of Julen Retegi's triumph

In the Promocion Championship, Ezkurdia beat Rico IV 22-6, Untoria beat Mendizabal III 22-16, Jaunarena beat Ibai Zabala 22-16 and Zabaleta beat Lemuno 22-10. In the semi finals, both of which take place on May 27th, Untoria plays Ezkurdia and Zabaleta plays Jaunarena.

Cuatro y Medio: the past week’s winners and losers

For a full report on RETEGI BI v ARITZ LASA, see here. In brief, the other games proceeded as follows:

Manomanista champion XALA beat SARALEGI 22-12 in Eibar on Sunday, but only exerted his grip on the game in the second half. Saralegi, the unquestionable underdog, fought tooth and nail to lead 11-10 at the mid point and gave his fans plenty to cheer about, taking the match to Xala and often dominating points with his wide court play. The champion knew he needed to up his game, and that he did, goaded on by his botillero and friend Aitor Zubieta. In the second half of the match, Saralegi looked a shadow of his former self, unable to pick up any scraps left by a now rampant Xala, who took the sting out of his opponent’s play by volleying and forcing the pace. The loser looked increasingly dejected, but deserves much credit for the way he approached the match; Saralegi always throws himself into championship ties and this was no exception. Xala plays Titin III in the latter’s home fortress of Logrono on Sunday, with a semi final berth at stake.

On Saturday in Pamplona, BENGOETXEA VI beat OLAETXEA 22-10. Bengoetxea was the clear favourite here, but he knew he needed to bring his A-game to ensure safe passage against an up and coming player who has ridden a crest of form throughout 2011. An early scoreline of 1-4 cannot have done much for his supporters’ nerves, but Bengoetxea emerged clearly the superior player, using a powerful and well directed serve to gain the early initiative in points time and again, and outdoing Olaetxea in every aspect of the game. He will need all the form he displayed here when he plays defending champion Martinez de Irujo on Sunday in Eibar.

OLAIZOLA II beat BERASALUZE VIII 22-14 in Bilbao on Saturday. On paper this was an easy win for the four time champion, but the scoreline belies the tempestuous tale of the match. Matters were extremely tight for much of the tie, with players trading hooks with ferocious intensity in front of a crowd of over a thousand. At 14-15, Berasaluze retired to the dressing room with a muscle strain in his left leg, but worse was to follow for the man from Berriz, when a contested call in the next play left him fuming and in angry debate with the judges. Olaizola, the serve his, ran away with the game while his opponent continued to show his disgust at his predicament. Berasaluze was perhaps unfortunate, but Olaizola’s physical superiority in the remainder of the match was obvious, and it is he who goes on to face 2009 champion Gonzalez in Pamplona on Friday. 

There were two matches in the Promocion Championship this past weekend. On Saturday in Pamplona, neo-pro TAINTA beat ARGOTE 22-15, an excellent win for the 19 year old against an opponent vastly more experienced. Argote is ten years his senior, and has twice been runner up in this championship, in 2007 and 2009. In Eibar on Sunday, APEZETXEA thrashed GORKA 22-5, in a game which should by rights have been closer. Tainta now plays Ongay (Pamplona, Saturday), and Apezetxea takes on Albisu (Logrono, Sunday).

The match between Berasaluze VIII and Olaizola II was a heated affair

The match between Berasaluze VIII and Olaizola II was a heated affair

Image from Diario de Navarra

Cuatro y Medio round up: wins for Saralegi, Berasaluze VIII and Olaetxea, plus the winners and losers in the second tier

Sunday 9th October, Eibar


This was a first round result which surprised many, with Ekaitz Saralegi easily outplaying Mikel Idoate, the 22-year old who is tipped for great things. Idoate won his place in the 2011 main championship by winning last year’s Promocion competition in grand style, trouncing Merino II 22-7 in the final after an unbeaten campaign. Saralegi, not immune to creating upsets in major competitions, went out of last year’s championship in the first round, but has already gone one better in 2011 and will meet Xala in the quarter finals.

The game at Astelena was an uninspiring one. Idoate was never in the game from 2-3 onwards, going behind 2-8, 5-16 and 9-19 before succumbing without much real fight. Saralegi was dominant in all areas, creating space through tactical nouse and hitting winners with aplomb. He notched up fifteen winners in open play with an additional two on service. Idoate won seven of his points with winners, relying on the lapses of his opponent for the remaining four. Sadly for him, Saralegi was not well disposed to the granting of gifts, and it is the Gipuzkoan who marches on.

Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-2, 8-2, 8-3, 8-4, 9-4, 9-5, 16-5, 16-6, 18-6, 18-8, 18-9, 19-9, 21-11, 22-11.

The other two main Championship matches to be held over the weekend also yielded easy winners. Both took place on Saturday in Pamplona, affording the Labrit fans a potentially intriguing double header which in the end fell rather short of drama. In the first game, PATXI RUIZ was outplayed by OLAETXEA, a pelotari very much in the ascendant, having won both the second tier Pairs and Manomanista so far this year. He won the second tier Cuatro y Medio in 2008, and showed his readiness for the major stage here, beating Ruiz 22-13. The second game of the evening saw BERASALUZE VIII put ARRETXE II to the sword by 22 points to 8. This was plain sailing for Berasaluze but he will face tougher times ahead; his next opponent is four-time Cuatro y Medio champion Aimar Olaizola.

In the second tier Promocion Championship, ARGOTE beat the spirited UNTORIA 22-16, ONGAY compounded CECILIO’s recent lack of form in a 22-8 drubbing, MENDIZABAL III withstood a comeback from ZABALETA to win 22-15, OLAZABAL, a recent returnee from injury, beat MERINO 22-8, TAINTA beat an off-colour IZA 22-9, and GORKA goes through after an injury to JAUNARENA forced the cancellation of their game.

For the full schedule of quarter final matches, see Asegarce.

Delight for Ekaitz Saralegi

Delight for Ekaitz Saralegi

Image from Deia

A Pelotari’s Farewell: Saying Goodbye to Oier Zearra in Galdakao

I was in Galdakao on Saturday night for the farewell match of local pelotari Oier Zearra, who has retired after fourteen years as a professional. The 34 year old made his debut in Eibar in 1997 and his greatest achievement came in 2006 when he finished as runner up in the Pairs Championship alongside Olaizola II. In addition, he triumphed in the second tier Pairs and second tier Manomanista, both in 1998.

Oier Zearra’s swansong coincided with Galdakao’s fiesta and the streets of the Bizkaian town were awash with people, many bedecked in local dress, celebrating under ikurriña bunting. I had arrived by train directly from Durango, to which I had walked from the summit of the Urkiola climb having watched the Vuelta a España pass through a sea of orange. The party atmosphere I had witnessed on the mountain appeared set to continue into the night. Almost as soon as I entered the main street from the station, I was passed by groups of people wearing stickers which bore Zearra’s portrait; it seemed the whole community had pulled together to celebrate the career of their famous son, while also still revelling in the glow of fellow local Igor Antón’s Vuelta triumph the previous day.

The jubilant atmosphere extended from the street into the fronton, which was nigh on sold out for the big game. I had secured my ticket in the standing section of the balcony by calling past the box office two days before, desperate not to miss out. As the first match got underway there were still some empty seats below me but as the start of the second  drew closer, the throng of people on the street migrated to their positions for the big event, with the strains of a traditional band, who were perhaps somewhat incongruously playing Yellow Submarine, growing louder. The curtain raiser appeared as if it would expire with the whimper of a routine win for Olaetxea and Iza, but the crowd was whipped into fervour by a near miraculous comeback from Urrutikoetxea, only for he and Ibai Zabala to fall three points shy of victory. But this was a mere amuse bouche and a respectful and almost religious hush descended as Oier Zearra took to the fronton, a warrior about to play his last.

Zearra stood alone, facing his friends, family and fellow citizens, backed by his sporting colleagues. Two dancers, clad in white with traditional red belts faced him and bowed. Accompanied by a single musician in command of both a txistu and a drum, they performed for his honour, a touchingly intimate tribute in the midst of something far larger. There followed a procession of gifts, presented one by one, culminating in the granting of that most evocative Basque prize, the txapela. From the mass of players, well-wishers, and young boys dreaming that someday such honours might be afforded to them, stepped a lone singer. His haunting melody made the spine shiver, and his swirling notes rose and met with the rafters as if another chapter in the history of the sport was being soaked up by their all-seeing beams before our very eyes.

As the ceremony ended and its various characters left the playing area to the slap of ball on stone, we awoke to the reality that Zearra had one more war to wage. He took to the fronton alongside the great Aimar Olaizola, with whom he had journeyed to the Pairs final in 2006, the best possible partner to assist him to a fitting final victory. In their way stood Pablo Berasaluze and Oier Mendizabal, in the unenviable position of potential party wreckers, knowing they must play their match despite the baying crowd’s fervent support of their retiring friend. In the emotion of the circumstances one might have forgiven Zearra for blowing it, but he and Olaizola were a steady and serene ship, long delivery feeding winners at the frontis. They held their nerve despite the typically dogged efforts of Berasaluze, who grew in stature and venom but could not stand in the way of a 22-20 win at the last. We applauded Zearra as he stood alone and applauded us, before leaving the fronton behind, we to the continuing fiesta, Zearra to the next chapter of his life.

 All the photographs are mine

Second Tier Manomanista Final: Olaextea comeback breaks Miguel Merino

Saturday 11th June, Logrono


Mikel Olaetxea Balerdi is the second tier Manomanista champion. The 26 year old defeated Miguel Merino 22-18, after a dramatic comeback at Adarraga, recovering from a 9-18 defecit. With the prize at his fingertips, the older Merino brother fell apart. He had swept all before him up until this point, basing his dominance in open play upon the base of a powerful serve, but a short sotomano, ceding the serve at 10-18 proved his undoing. Olaextea never looked back. He attacked fearlessly with both hands, especially his stronger left, and avoided being drawn into lengthy rallies, which he feared may be his undoing. Playing with speed and not a little risk, he reduced Merino to a shadow of his former self, hiding in disbelief behind his towel. The counselling he received from his botillero worked not at all, as the pre match favourite swept all before him.

Olaetxea took the title in 51 minutes and 187 balls, scoring 12 winners to the 8 of his rival. He has now won each of the second tier prizes, having added the Pairs and Manomanista to the Cuatro y Medio he collected in 2008. The top flight awaits.

Scoring sequence: 0-6, 2-6, 2-8, 5-8, 5-12, 8-12, 8-15, 9-15, 9-18, 22-18

Winners/Errors: Olaetxea 12/6, Merino 8/4

Service winners/service errors: Olaetxea 5/0, Merino 4/1

Mikel Olaetxea triumphant

Mikel Olaetxea triumphant

Sources: Diario Vasco, El Correo Image from: La Rioja

Olaextea and Albisu crowned Second Tier Pairs Champions

Saturday 9th April, Tolosa


A superb display, including a whopping fourteen winners, by Mikel Olaextea, saw the Asegarce pair clinch the second tier final at Beotibar on Saturday. He and Jon Ander Albisu were always ahead, in front of a capcity crowd who created a magnificent atmosphere. They surged ahead to 6-0 early in the game, but Gorka and Merino did bring some pressure to bear, closing to 9-5 and then 14-13. However, Olaetxea increasingly exploited the errors of Gorka, and ably supported by Albisu, halted the Riojan challenge in its tracks.

Albisu and Olaetxea exultant

Albisu and Olaetxea exultant

Image from Noticias de Navarra

Mendizabal I and Olaetxea renew their contracts with Asegarce

Aratz Mendizabal (27, Zaldibia) has signed to stay with Asegarce for another year, and Mikel Olaetxea (25, Lizartza) for a further two. Olaetxea won the 2008 Second Tier Cuatro y Medio crown, Mendizabal having won it previously, in 2006. Mendizabal has also been a Second Tier Pairs champion, winning the title in 2005 with Aritz Begino.

Bengoetxea VI and Retegi Bi win the day

There were two first round matches in the Cuatro y Medio Championship today and both were won in decisive fashion. At Labrit in Pamplona, former Manomanista Champion Oinatz Bengoetxea thrashed current 2nd tier Manomanista king Mikel Beroiz 22-5. A solid Bengoetxea was never troubled by his young opponent who made 9 errors in the course of the encounter. Beroiz is a truly impressive young talent and will have his day, but it is the man from Leiza who proceeds to the second round, where he will meet Aritz Lasa.

Matters were almost as one-sided in Renteria where Julen Retegi beat Mikel Olaetxea 22-8. Retegi will now face the winner of Monday’s game at Beotibar between Patxi Ruiz and Alberto Ongay.

Julen Retegi Retegi Bi

Julen Retegi "Retegi Bi"

2nd Division Manomanista: Olazabal the comeback kid into the semi finals

Friday 1st May
Aritzbatalde, Zarautz

The crowd at Aritzbatalde in Zarautz was not sizeable but those who did turn out to witness this quarter final match between two young talents were treated to an enthralling tie. Mikel Olazabal, the 22 year old from Areso has turned a lot of heads since he entered the professional ranks in 2007 and is surely destined for the heights. In the ASPE forward’s way stood Mikel Olaetxea from Asegarce, two years his senior and with experience on his side. It appeared as if experience would win out, but that was to reckon without the tenacity of Olazabal.

For the first half of the game, Olazabal was forced to dance to Olaetxea’s tune. The young Navarran allowed himself to be dominated and appeared ill at ease under pressure. It was Olaetxea’s impressive service which won him his initial advantage. The man from Lizartza regularly sent the ball barrelling to the back of the fronton at the 100kph mark, and although Olazabal was adept at making contact, he found controlling his returns to be beyond his powers. It was not until the score stood at 6-1 to Olaetxea that Olazabal managed to duel with his opponent on equal terms. Indeed, it looked very much as if he had the point in his pocket until ambition got the better of him and his attempted winner off both walls fell short of the frontis. In the very next point, Olaetxea marched onwards by showing the younger player how such a shot should be played. Olaetxea’s other masterful tactic was to bombard Olazabal with high balls, forcing him to attempt ever riskier overhead volleys. For much of the time, he was up to the task and scrapped impressively, but the pressure wore him down. At 9-1, it seemed as if the die had been cast for Olazabal.

However, one error can open doors for an opponent who seems down and out and so it proved here. When Olaetxea hit too low, it was Olazabal’s turn to show that he would not lie down. After triumph in the dog fight of a point which reduced his deficit to five points, Olazabal unleashed his own serving power. For three points in a row, he served fast and long before winning with a drop shot into the corner, his opponent still rooted to the back of the fronton. It was a tactic so simple and so effective, and Olaetxea was powerless to stop it. Olazabal did concede the serve in the next play, when he attempted the same thing and undercooked it but it was only to cost him one point. From 7-11 down, the young pelotari raced to a lead of 13-11, his serve once again leading the way. He also proved adept at forcing Olaetxea into risky shots where he was often found wanting. Although Olazabal conceded another two points, the result never now seemed in doubt; Olazabal grew a foot taller while Olaetxea’s composure ebbed away with each passing shot. When the latter won serve at 14-20, he blew his last chance with an unnecessary error which, rather than inducing fury in its creator, sparked only resignation. Olazabal wasted no time in adding the points he required for a victory made all the more impressive for the fight back he was forced to produce.

Olazabal now proceeds to the semi finals, where he will face another young talent, 19 year old Mikel Beroiz on May 17th. The other semi final, to be held on the same day, will be between Jokin Argote and Asier Arruti. The latter booked his place yesterday by defeating Pablo Urrizelki 22-18.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 1-9, 2-9, 7-9, 7-11, 13-11, 13-12, 13-13, 14-13, 19-13, 19-14 and 22-14.

Mikel Olazabal

Mikel Olazabal