The Spanish media had a field day when Bruno Hortelano won the 200m gold medal at the Amsterdam 2016 European Athletics Championships.
No one from Spain, a nation that usually counted on its middle and long distance runners, walkers and Ruth Beitia to add to its gold reserves, had ever got a medal before in a sprint event.
Now, the cosmopolitan Australian-born and US-educated Catalan biomedical engineer had sped all the way to the top rung on the podium.
Gifted with a family name that translates as ‘Gardener’, the Spanish media managed to find plenty of punning headlines not least of which was ‘Gardener mows down everything in his path’.
However, Hortelano knew – and still readily admits – that a more appropriate headline might have been ‘Gardener stumbles across treasure after rival trims edge too closely’.
In the Dutch city, the first man across the line was local star Churandy Martina who ostensibly seemed to have added to his 100m gold medal with a strong run in the outside lane that brought him home almost a metre in front of the 24-year-old Spaniard.
However, around 20 minutes later, the judges had reviewed the race and observed that Martina had trod on the inside line shortly after the gun had gone.
Hortelano to his amazement and delight was upgraded from an already-superlative silver medal – considering he had arrived in Amsterdam not even ranked in the top 10 in Europe although he improved his own Spanish record by 0.08 to 20.39 in his semi-final – to gold, going into the record books with a time of 20.45 into a -0.9 m/s headwind
His interview in the mixed zone, with his face a picture of disbelief, when told he was the 200m champion went viral.
“I have been over to see my parents (both globe-trotting scientists who were also in the Olympic Stadium) and I still thought it was second. I have taken the lap of honour with the Spanish flag thinking I’m second, but they have now told me that they have given me gold. I still don’t believe it, I don’t believe it until I have the gold hanging around my neck,” said the incredulous Hortelano.
He said at the time that he had barely been aware of Martina for much of the race, although that’s difficult to believe with the Dutchman just two lanes outside of him. “I just ran my race and concentrate on myself. I ran a good bend and kept going to the end,” he commented immediately after the race.
In fact, an analysis of the race suggests otherwise. Although all men were very tightly grouped, the leaders coming off the bend were Great Britain’s Danny Talbot and Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev, who were eventually to pick up the bronze and silver medals behind Hortelano.
However, with 80 metres to go, both Martina and Hotelano started to go through the gears and came down the home straight like drag racers.
Nevertheless, however the race was run and won, the plaudits belong to Hortelano.
“I can’t say I came to Amsterdam expecting even a medal but what I can say is that I came here expecting to give my best. If I ran well, if everything went well and depending on how the other ran, then I had a chance of a medal; but I certainly didn’t expect that it would be gold.
“I had my parents, my girlfriend and two cousins in the stands and that helped me relax and be calm down on the way out to the track. But at the finish line, tears started to flow as soon as I crossed (even when he had the silver). I have not stopped (crying) yet,” he added.
Hortelano went on to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games where he improved his Spanish record to 20.12 and just missed out on a place in the final but the following month he suffered a serious right hand injury in a car accident that required a series of operations and he missed the whole of 2017.
However, he bounced back in 2018, reducing his 200m national record to 20.04 and also adding the 400m record to his portfolio with a run of 44.69 in Madrid.
Achilles tendon injuries put paid to nearly all of 2019, including his chances of contesting the Doha 2019 World Athletics Championships, but he has a habit of returning from adversity with aplomb and, at the age of 28, he insisted recently to Spanish journalists that he intends to be in the mix for the medals again at the big events in 2021.