Ray Zapata always remembers that he started very late to compete in gymnastics and that he has only been at the highest level for seven years. Born in the Dominican Republic 28 years ago, he arrived in Lanzarote with five and his family settled there. Today, with the Olympic silver on the ground around his neck, he also remembers that when he was a child he was always up in the trees. "I was always up there, I looked like a monkey, I had no toys, my toys were to take a coconut and a mango, fruit was not missing." I did not know, at the time, that gymnastics existed. He didn't know it existed until he got to Spain, in fact. "I had not seen it on TV or anywhere until my mother decided to take us to the Canary Islands," he revives.
There he began to train. And there they saw Gervasio Deferr (two-time Olympic champion) and the former gymnast and coach Víctor Cano that this kid had a talent that deserved to be polished. This is how Gervi, the last Spanish gymnast medalist so far, remembers him in Beijing 2008, whom Ray has always considered as an older brother. “He is a boy who from a very young age has been very powerful and from a very young age he has been reaching a height in the jumps that for others was unthinkable. In Spanish gymnastics something similar was only seen in me ”. He and Cano went to a Spanish championship to follow him live, but just that day he was injured before the final and could not compete. “We were following him the same in training. He had a special talent.We took him to Barcelona [to the High Performance Center] because in Madrid they couldn't invest the time that Ray needed, but we could ”.
Zapata was 11 years old at the time. At the age of 20, in 2013, he joined the national team and moved to CAR in Madrid, where he began training under Fernando Siscar. He collected a bronze in colt in 2014 in a World Cup event and in 2015 he was fourth on the ground, in the same World Cup. That year he also won gold at the Baku 2015 European Games. At the Glasgow World Cup that same year, it was bronze; his first great triumph. The one that foreshadowed a good role in the Rio 2016 Games where, however, he failed to pass the tie and finished eleventh.
"In Rio everything caught me new, now I am a little more experienced and I know how to focus my nerves, I know what I can achieve and what not ... I am more intelligent when facing the competition," he told this newspaper in the spring of 2019, already recovered from the operation on the Achilles tendon.
He also assured that he had to go back to review the Olympic rings that he had tattooed because the yellow was hardly visible anymore.
“Before I didn't nail, it was like a ball that would shoot the other way;
Now I'm on the nail, but with my shoulders a little hunched over.
We are changing that to gain tenths ”, he explains.
In the exercise that earned him the silver this Sunday in Tokyo he nailed both things.
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