Carolina Marin on being emotional, friendship, and what makes her happy

Spain's reigning Olympic champion gave an intimate interview revealing her demons and distractions from badminton

By Ken Browne

"A killer" on the badminton court, and "a joker" off it.

That's how Carolina Marin describes herself as she opened up in an intimate interview with Spain's newspaper 'El Pais' ahead of her 27th birthday.

The Olympic champion is back training at the high performance centre in Madrid a year and a bit off a potential Olympic title defence in Tokyo next summer.

Almost fully recovered from a serious injury, Marin spoke candidly about being single again, how she has no time for new friends and how high-heel shoes make her happy.

I have more high heels than trainers. I don't wear them, I don't have time, but I keep them in my shoe closet, I look at them and they make me happy. I love them. - Carolina Marin

Marin also admitted that her father's accident has affected her mind: "Since then my head is not 100% there."

Carolina Marin Interview

Carolina Marin is no stranger to breaking new ground.

At Rio 2016 she became the first non-Asian player to win an Olympic badminton gold medal, and when she tore her ACL cruciate ligament in April 2019, her recovery was cutting edge:

Two psychologists, two dogs, 10 hours a day of rehab, and ear sensors helped her get back to business.

Now on the eve of her 27th birthday she's opened up again and given us a real and raw glimpse at what it's like being Carolina Marin.

Speaking to Luz Sanchez-Mellado of Spain's El Pais newspaper, Marin gave one of her most intimate interviews yet.

Describing herself as a "killer" on the court but "sensitive and emotional" off it, she also says she is "outgoing and a joker" away from badminton.

Like all the rest of us, Carolina is shuttle-bag-full of contradictions.

Here she is dancing socially distanced flamenco with her mother:

Carolina Marin: Coach

Right when the interview is about to begin her trainer Fernando Rivas scolds her paternally for not stretching post-session.

Marin spends the rest of the interview stretching. But is Rivas taking his role as father figure too literally?

"My parents brought me here (To the Center of high performance of the High Council of sports, Madrid) when I was 14," Carolina says, far from her hometown of Huelva in the south of Spain.

"And they said to my coach, 'mind her'."

"So in the beginning he took on that fatherly role a bit, teaching me what was the best for me in terms of goals that we wanted to achieve, helping me see things that at 14 or 15 I couldn't see for myself."

"He tries to guide me along, maybe his demands and his control have been excessive sometimes, there are people who think so, but if he wasn't like that, then today I might not have an Olympic gold medal."

Carolina Marin: Style

In a badminton you need the smash of a sledgehammer and the caress of a gossamer glove, Marin is asked whether her style is strength before intelligence or brain over brawn.

"Both of those things are important, but above all you need to keep your head and think tactically. I use strength in attack, I'm very aggressive and attacking, that's my style of play. On the court I'm a killer."

"On the court I'm a killer." - Carolina Marin

But what about off the court?

"A little bit the contrary. I'm an extrovert, I love to joke around and have a laugh. I have two personalities. When people see me on the court they think I look stupid because I'm so concentrated and don't want anyone annoying me."

"But when they get to know me they say: 'Wow, you're actually good fun!' What I am for sure is sensitive and very emotional on and off the court."

Carolina Marin's two psychologists

It's no secret that Marin works with two psychologists: Maria Martinez is her sports psychologist, and Fany Barembaum helps with her personal life.

"I've been seeing a psychologist since I was 15," the star shuttler continues.

"I needed it to know myself better and manage my emotions on the court. In the end you play the way you are, there are things I needed to know about myself, externalise them, get them out from inside because sometimes you have a lot of poison inside and you need to get it out and free yourself of it."

Does she use some of these analysis tools on her opponents?

"Yes. My coaches do a prior analysis on rivals and with that we come with a game strategy. Then, in the warm-up I look at their expression, their eyes... see how they are, how they move, what their face tells me... you realise if they are nervous, if they're afraid, if they're up for it. I imagine they do the same."

Carolina Marin's mantra: 'I can because I think I can'

Can everybody succeed because they think they can?

"It's a phrase I've had in my head since I was a girl. Maybe not everybody can, but I believe talent is a small percentage and the rest is work, work, work. I talk to myself a lot on the court. That motto is my mantra."

So she talks to herself?

"Yes, sometimes people think I'm crazy because I move my mouth, but I don't think it's crazy, you're just saying out loud what you want to achieve, it's reinforcement."

"I have fewer friends than fingers on one hand"

With such commitment to her sport, hours and hours everyday perfecting her art, keeping friends isn't easy.

"I have fewer friends than fingers on one hand," she says, openly, honestly, "and I don't want any more because I don't have the time.

"I have my three best friends: one I train with, and of the other two, one is in Madrid and the other in Huelva. Spending time with them is important, it's my time to disconnect and have fun. But I just don't have time to meet new people."

Carolina Marin: Boyfriend?

Her last relationship ended and Carolina is single again.

"It's difficult. I spend a lifetime here in these facilities and we meet people here, or through here. That's how I met the last guy I was with. But it's complicated."

It is for most of the rest of us too, if that's any help Carolina.

"Yes, I mean I know my life is difficult to understand and I am a difficult person to be with because I spend so many hours in the gym, I'm always travelling all over the world, most people don't understand and won't put up with that."

Carolina Marin: "I can't stand myself"

But can she put up with herself?

No. I can't stand myself. I've got a strong personality, I'm not a passive girl, totally the opposite, anxious, I can be irascible, hyperactive, I can't keep still. I often say to myself, 'damn, I go looking for these problems, I bring them on myself'.

On a scale of 1-10 how much does Carolina Marin love Carolina Marin?

Not much. A 6 or 7. I always put everyone else before myself. And that's good for some things, but for others not so much.

"Badminton in my life"

So your life is just badminton, literally.

Without the literally. Right now, yes.

But isn't that like living in a bubble?

Maybe. But this bubble is my bubble, my world, and I can always burst it. I have my feet on the ground and my preferences and priorities are clear, they've made me what I am.

Is it worth it?

Today, yes, I insist it is. The moment it doesn't feel worth it will be the moment I decide to retire.

Time to live and burst the bubble?

The first year when I retire I want to take a year off, have time for myself, do whatever I want without thinking about the time I have to wake up and all the things I have to do during the day.

I want to be bored for the first time in my life. But life throws things at you so... You never know how long it'll last or what you want to do afterwards.

Carolina Marin loves high heels

But until the day to put away the racket comes, Marin finds ways to treat herself.

"When I've won tournaments I've bought myself some clothes. I like to dress well. I'm a bit of a fashionista. Actually I have more high heels than I do runners (Trainers!)."

"I don't wear them, I don't have time, but I keep them in my shoe closet, I look at them and they make me happy. I love them."

"When I go out I don't wear flats, I wear 10cm (4') high heels. I grow in heels. A pair of high heels give me something that badminton doesn't. Badminton is 10 hours a day, heels maybe an hour a month, but for that hour I'm a different person playing a different role.

"And I like it."

Carolina Marin with Queen Letizia of Spain behind her at a royal function in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

One wish: Carolina Marin's father

So if Carolina Marin, Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallist, had just one wish what would it be?

"Oh my God, get my father back. He had a terrible accident three months ago, I nearly lost him and he'll never be the same. Since then, even though he's in good hands, and even though I feel physically well, my head isn't 100%."