Tag Archives: Zearra

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

2nd Division Manomanista Final: classy rookie Beroiz takes the title

Saturday 23rd May
Beotibar, Tolosa
BEROIZ beat ARGOTE 22-13

Mikel Beroiz has been a professional pelotari for all of nine months but yesterday the 19 year old from Navarre defeated Jokin Argote to lift the second division manomanista title in commanding style. Beroiz carried the slightly shorter odds going into the final but to beat a man five years his senior in his first major final, at this stage in his nascent career, is a significant achievement. The enthusiastic crowd at Beotibar was treated to an enthralling match in which both players displayed classic shot making prowess but it was the exciting youngster who brought the greater power to bear.

For the first half of the encounter, the pelotaris were deadlocked, reaching 6-6 and 8-8 after a sprightly start from Argote had netted him an early lead. Beroiz then advanced to 13-8 and had seemingly cut himself free, but once again the scores were levelled at 13-13. However, Beroiz now demonstrated his physical prowess, and after a total of eight service winners in a match lasting 55 minutes and 221 strikes of the ball, the young pretender was crowned. Argote began well and took the game to his opponent in the early stages but it was the strength of Beroiz, his violence in attack and his clever use of the walls which saw him through. Remember the name, for we will hear much more of Mikel Beroiz.

Source: El Correo

Victory for Mikel Beroiz

Victory for Mikel Beroiz

Other news

Earlier in the evening, the fans were treated to a high quality doubles match between Manomanista finalist Juan Martinez de Irujo and Asier Arruti, and Asier Olaizola and Oier Mendizabal. For Irujo this was a chance to maintain his barnstorming form of late as he prepares for his showdown with either Aimar Olaizola or Ruben Beloki on June 7th. However, things did not quite go to plan for him as Olaizola senior and Mendizabal took the win by a solitary point. Losing Manomanista semi finalist and defending champion Oinatz Bengoetxea also went down by one point; at the Mañaria Festival, he and Alexis Apraiz lost to Pablo Berasaluze and Oier Zearra by 22 points to 21. Meanwhile, in the headline match at the Arbizu Festival, Titin III and Zubieta beat Gonzalez and Lasa III 22-15.

Olaizola I took on Irujo and won

Olaizola I took on Irujo and won

Mano pairs: King Irujo plays a blinder

Sunday 15th February
Atano III, San Sebastian

This was supposed to be an epic. Juan Martinez de Irujo and Aimar Olaizola are two of the greatest exponents of forward play we have seen in many years and as befits their status, they have a long and turbulent rivaly, tinged with huge respect. The last time these starry pelotaris met at Atano III, Olaizola took home the Cuatro y Medio crown at the expense of Irujo in a match which dominated the sporting media, eager to delve into the characters of the finalists. Irujo is known as an often erratic genius, one day barnstormingly brilliant, the next error ridden and off colour. In contrast, Aimar is frequently summarised as the great tactician, calculating and brutal, and cool as the proverbial cucumber. Which Irujo would we see today, and would Aimar be able to out-think him? A sell out crowd could hardly wait for the answer, but the match which promised so much turned out to be a one sided showcase for Irujo.

The forward from Ibero was simply stunning. From the off, the front half of the fronton was his territory and his alone as the winners came thick and fast. Three breathtaking gantxo winners left the Asegarce pair stranded and impotent and he employed the drop shot with impunity, manouvering his opponents with seeming ease to create a mouthwateringly open court for his purposes. He did not commit an error until the score stood at 9-2 in his favour. Two more errors were to follow but by then it barely mattered; the crucial point was all but in the bag.

And what of the usually great Olaizola II? A combination of factors led to his downfall, the first being that Irujo was so well and truly on song that he never allowed the Goizuetan to find his stride. For Aimar throughout his career, txapelas have seemingly grown on trees and he managed to show a few glimpses of his pedigree with three textbook crosscourt winners, but otherwise, things never went his way. On a day when the brilliant Irujo rather than the erratic one came to the party, he made too many errors to compete; his bad day conincided with his opponent’s superlative one. Olaizola may have the excuse of an abdominal problem, stories of which were doing the rounds before the match. Although there was no obvious sign of pain, he did look ill at ease and maybe this was due to more than just Irujo’s onslaught. Irujo seemed to indicate that he did not appear quite right in his post match interview, but whatever the reason, Olaizola will need to put today behind him and concentrate on next weekend, remembering the great player that he is.

The battle of the defenders was not quite so crucial but still played its part. Oier Mendizabal was replaced by Oier Zearra owing to a problem with his right hand. Commentators assumed that the absence of his usual partner would be Aimar’s major worry, but in truth, Zearra played well enough. His performance was solid at times but he did make errors, notably from the back where he was tested purposely by the Aspe pair. Goni III was the better of the two, providing an excellent and dependable foil for the attacking might of Irujo.

Next weekend will be a nailbiter for both pairs. Olaizola and Zearra, top of the standings after last week, would have had one foot in the semi finals had they pulled off a win here but they now join the plethora of pairs on four points and will almost certainly need to beat Barriola and Gonzalez next week, the only potentially saving grace being their points difference. If Irujo and Goni had lost tonight, they would have had a monumental struggle on their hands to qualify. As it is, they have given themselves the best possible chance; they lie top for the moment, level on points with Olaizola’s pair. In this topsy turvy tournament, what may happen next weekend is anybody’s guess.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 9-1, 9-2, 9-5, 10-5, 15-5, 15-6, 19-6, 19-7, 19-8 and 22-8

The unstoppable Irujo

The unstoppable Irujo

Image from: http://www.navarrasport.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/juanirujo4.jpg