A few years ago Nike ran an ad campaign in Spain featuring basketball star
Today, to be a star Spanish athlete is even more than a responsibility. It signifies nothing less than world-class sporting cred. Where once Spain would supply the occasional professional outlier -- a
Spain's European champion national soccer team took the world No. 1 ranking into 2009, and in
The last four winners of the Tour de France hail from south of the Pyrenees, with the latest,
As for basketball, what began as the reigning world champs' breathtaking challenge to
What led to this? Three things:
Shrewd stewardship. Spain's ACB is the best nation-based pro basketball league in the world, and La Liga, thanks to F.C. Barcelona's defeat of Manchester United in the Champions League, can lay plausible claim to the same in soccer. Ask around any front office in those two sports, and you'll hear rhapsodies to the Spanish clubs' approach to developing talent. No less impressive than F.C. Barcelona's winning "the treble" in 2009 is that Barca did it while starting seven products of its own youth system.
Cash money. Spanish sports are awash in it, at the grassroots and the summit alike. Public and private patrons poured pesetas into sporting facilities in conjunction with the Barcelona Games, and we're witnessing the results. And this year Real Madrid -- which rakes in more revenue than any soccer club on earth -- dropped 162 million Euros on
Social change. Before its rebirth as a democracy in 1978, Spain hadn't had a chance to seed sport among the masses to see what might grow. But since then-- and especially since the country's accession to the E.U. -- an improved diet has helped the average Spaniard of the current sporting-age generation grow 50 percent taller than his European counterpart. Prosperity has built a leisure class, whose byproducts -- a more athletic citizen and a more affluent fan -- reinforce each other.
More than that, though, there's been a revolution in the thinking of young Spaniards born during the decade between their country's hosting of the 1982 World Cup and the 1992 Olympics. From an excuse, to a responsibility, to an expectation.
It may take some imagination, but think of