Olympic Stories

Jesus Miguel Rollan Prada - water polo hero

Jesus Miguel Rollan Prada - water polo heroJesus Miguel Rollan Prada was the world famous goalkeeper for the Spanish national water polo teams during the 1990’s. A game with it’s origins in African rites of passage rituals, and originally known as ‘water rugby’, it is somewhat similar to ice hockey in the attitude and competitiveness of the players; a throwback to the days when players used to be able to hold each other underwater.

As with ice hockey, the ref’s whistle is heard all the time, and fouls are used deliberately as tactics to disrupt the course of play. A team will consist of seven players. Except for the goalkeeper, there are no specific positions, and the six field members move about the pool as required.

The goalkeeper is the only player allowed to touch the ball with both hands, to strike the ball with a fist, and to touch the bottom of the pool; these privileges are only available for a limited space in front of the goal.

Water polo has been included as a sport in the summer Olympics since the very early years of the modern Games. It was one of the first team sports to be played, beginning with the 1900 games in Paris. At this time, water polo was a man’s game, and women’s water polo did not become an Olympic sport until 2000. In 1956, the semi-final match between Russia and Hungary occurred shortly after the Hungarian Revolution was brutally crushed, and became a legendary and violent confrontation. The pool is rumoured to have turned red from the amount of blood shed, and the Hungarians won the match 4-0, later defeating Yugoslavia to win the Gold medal.

Born in 1968, Jesus Rollan played as part of Spain’s national water polo team in a number of Olympic Games, beginning in the Seoul 1988 games, and including the two Games when Spain won medals: the 1992 Barcelona games when the Spanish team lost the gold to Italy, in front of King Juan Carlos I; and the 1996 Atlanta games, which Spain won gold against a background of tragedy and terrorism. He was forced to retire after the 2004 Athens game due to injury.

A much-admired goalkeeper, Rollan earned a lot of popularity through his goalkeeping against the US during the 1996 Atlantic games. The Spanish won the quarter-final match 5-4, and Rollan made 11 saves. The Americans had been training for 3 years, hoping to win in their own country; but their shots repeatedly hit the bar or were saved by Rollan.

A modest and charming man, Rollan’s popularity was probably second only to team-mate Manuel Estiarte Duocastella, who is regarded as one of the best water-polo players ever, and has competed in a record-breaking six Olympics. Out side of the game, Rollan was a friend and companion of the Infanta Cristina, and is widely believed to have introduced her to her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, a fellow Olympian.

Rollan made many fans though his animated manner in the pool, which seemed to continue into his personal life. He was very generous to other water polo players, and he was eager to promote water polo outside of its base in Catalonia; he campaigned to improve the levels outside of Madrid. He was also greatly admired by women for his good looks, though he declared in interviews that his fiancée (later wife) was enough for him.

After his injury and forced retirement from water polo in 2004, Rollan seemed to become very depressed, and eventually started treatment for depression at a spa in Barcelona, which was later reported as a voluntary admission. This spa was used by a number of sportspeople seeking help with problems, and Rollan’s treatment was supported, and paid for, by the Spanish Olympic Committee, and the president of the Committee later recalled that Jesus ”Was a big kid who was scared and asked for help, which of course we provided for him”(Blanco, El Mundo March 2006).

He was admitted in October, 2005, and died there after falling from a rooftop terrace in March 2006, leaving a wife and daughter. There has been some speculation that the fall was not accidental, but that Rollan committed suicide because of the deep depression that he was suffering. His depression would certainly have contrasted painfully with his normal animated personality, and he should probably not have been on the terrace, regardless of whether it was accidental or deliberate.

Only 37 when he died, Rollan could have expected to be an ambassador for this sport, and a popular personality, for a number of years to come.

Career Highlights
  • 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games – Gold
  • 1992 Barcelona Olympic games – Silver
  • 1999 FINA World Cup – Bronze

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