Natalia Malaga: Discipline & Passion! 

Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State of America, once said: “There are no secrets to success. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work and persistence”. Certainly Mr. Powell could well have been talking about Natalia Málaga, the last survivor of the golden generation of Peruvian female volleyball players who won several trophies over the past half-century, putting Latin America’s female sport on the Olympic map, alongside Nicaraguan-born Costa Rican Claudia Poll (swimming), Gabriela “Gaby” Sabatini from Argentina (tennis), and the women’s basketball side of Brazil, of course.

A-Born Athlete!

Almost everyone in Peru has heard her name in recent decades. Within Peruvian circles, she is one of the two most popular and respected individuals, alongside Gastón Acurio, who is often referred to as one of the gurus in World Gastronomic.

She was born Natalia Maria Málaga Dibos on January 26,1964 into a sporting family in Lima (Peru), the third largest country on the South American mainland. In this context, she showed promise as an athlete at a very young age, winning much encouragement from her teachers, friends, and team-mates. Like several other girls in her hometown, she dreamed of one day playing for Peru’s women’s volleyball squad.

She was small, but overcame this with her voracious appetite for wins. Over those years, she participated in countless volleyball meets, a sport that more than any other embodies Peru’s multi-racial society. Soon afterward, Málaga’s outstanding talent and discipline won the attention of many coaches, among them Norma Velarde and Luisa Fuentes (both who fired the national interest in volleyball in the 1970s when they claimed several top honors). 

Not long afterwards, she was promoted to Peru’s under-17 national volleyball team. During this period of time, she began to win her first international meets. As early 1980 as, for example, she lifted both the Continental Cup for Girls Under-17 and the Under-19 South American Tournament. That same year, she received favorable notices and was widely mentioned as a possible Olympic sportwoman to go to what is now Russia to compete in the Games of the 23rd Olympiad. However she passed unnoticed in the former Soviet Union when the junior squad competed against senior teams from Iron Curtain countries such as the Democratic German Republic (GDR) and the USSR. At Moscow, for example, the host country beat Peru 3-1. But that was a huge experience in a time when the Latin American republic had not money to make pre-Olympic tours -unlike Cuba, USA, Brazil, and Japan– on Far East and Eastern Europe. Almost all of Peru’s expenses were paid by the Kremlin at the 1980 Moscow Games. 

Thanks to this experience, nearly two years later, an eighteen-year-old rookie, Málaga created a sensation at the Junior South American (SA) Championship when Peru claimed gold at the expense of Brazil. During those years, Peru produced what has been referred to as the “miracle of Latin America”. As no other country in the Third World, there were a lot of world-class volleyball players despite many obstacles: Denisse Fajardo, Gina Torrealba, Cecilia del Risco, Cenaida Uribe, and Aurora Heredia, among others international stars.

However in time, by mid-1984 exactly, the nation’s head coach Man Bok Park had his eyes on Málaga to replace Carmen Pimentel. Thereafter, she became a celebrity in her home country, along with her other team-mates, as the national side came close to winning the Olympic glory in late 1988. 

Despite being one of the shortest members of the Peruvian volleyball squad, she was one of the greatest players in the history of game in an era when her country had been devastated by one of Latin America’s worst conflicts (during those troubled times, the Peruvian squad was an exception in World sports). Her Olympic leadership was (and as coach currently) very similar to the former goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert of Paraguay, who was often referred to as one of the world’s top footballers in the past half-century. After a 23-year sporting career, Málaga officially retired from the sport in 2003. Following Peru’s declining volleyball image, she turned to coach. She wants to put the Latin American republic back into the international race.

Medals & Trophies

Like no other athlete, Málaga, amassed several international wins around the world, from Tokyo (Japan) and London (UK) to Lausanne (Switzerland) and Santiago (Chile). During the nation’s Golden Age, for example, she picked up a total of four world-class medals (3 silver and 1 bronze), aside from winning five Continental golds (Sao Paulo’83, Caracas’85, Maldonado’87, Curitiba ’89, Cuzco’93) and three Pan American medals as well as many non-officials tournaments (at that time Peru was regularly invited to play with major teams of Europe, Norceca, Far East, USSR, as well as to other Eastern Bloc countries). A Record for a female athlete from a Third World country as Peru, where there were not sporting facilities to amateur athletes and where Olympic sport has not a place on the government’s national agenda. But that was not all! Up to now,she holds the distinction of being one of the youngest medalists in World Cup history following winning the silver medal in her hometown of Lima in late 1982. In addition to this achievement, she was on four different Summer Games: Moscow’80 and USA’84 as well as SKorea’88 and Australia’00, after winning three pre-Olympic meets in Brazil, Uruguay, and Lima (where Málaga played one of her best matches). She also played on the Peruvian national team in 1986, 1990,and 1994 FIVB World Championships.

Mexico City 1981

Working with Luisa Fuentes and Norma Velarde, she became a key sportswoman in the early stages of her sporting career and especially when the country’s junior side began a run of success between 1978 and 1982, a team made up of 12 young-up-and- coming athletes, among them Cecilia Tait and Gina Torrealba as well as Denisse Fajardo and Rosa García. It was during this period, for example, where they captured their second consecutive Regional trophy, heralding a new era for Peru.

In fact, the euphoria caused by this new generation had visible effects when the high-flying squad reached to the finals at the Second edition of the FIVB World Youth Volleyball Championship at Mexico City toward the end of 1981, thrilling a country that fourteen months earlier had its first multi-candidate presidential election. During the Junior meet, however, it was all the more shocking as Peru also routed the People’s Republic of China (theorically the pre-tournament favorite) 3-1 (15-8, 15-5, 11-15, 17-15), before falling to the South Koreans in the gold-medal match. Around this time, they also had an important win over the Soviet Union (3-1) in despite of the skepticism of journalists in the competition. From the beginning the Peruvian side was not considered a frontrunner at Mexico. At that time, the USSR was hailed as one of the most respected junior delegations in Europe. 

In fact, Málaga and her team-mates led her country to a big dream nurtured for decades by winning the silver medal, the best junior result in Latino volleyball until 1985. But that was only the beginning of a new era. 

Spartakiade Games 1983

From 1980 to 2003, Natalia Málaga was never left outside of the country’s senior team, but she was the bottom reserve due to her international inexperience and short height (1,70m-tall). Yet she struggled from the beginning to be accepted as one of the six main athletes after winning a berth as newcomer to attend the 1980 Moscow Summer Games, where she at 16 became one of the youngest entries. By this time, her dream was to become one of the sportswomen of the country’s national sextet at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. And that was exactly what she did. 

Since 1983 there were new changes on the national team: Man Bok Park dropped two sportswomen (Ana Cecilia Carrillo and Silvia León) from the Peruvian side that would go on to win the IX Venezuela Pan American Games. Meanwhile, setter Raquel Chumpitaz –whose son (Matthew) plays on the U.S. men’s junior national squad since the early 2010s– could not compete for the Latino side after marrying to an European citizen and moved to her new home: Budapest, Hungary’s capital city. Thus, Carmen Pimentel, Denisse Fajardo, and Gina Torrealba were called by Mr. Park to replace Carrillo, León, and the new Hungarian lady. However, in the Venezuelan capital, there were poor results: Peru routed Brazil 3-2 in the bronze-medal game, upon losing to Cuba (0-3) and the States (0-3) in straight sets during the preliminary round and semis. 

Due to their international status as runners-up at the 1982 FIVB World Tournament, Peru was special guest by the USSR Olympic Committee to participate in the Spartakiade Games -a kind of Soviet Olympics during Cold War– at Moscow in the latter half of 1983, where it did not even make the semis and finishing behind Cuba, Russia and two former Soviet republics. After the demise of the country’s national squad at the Pan American Games,emerged the figure of Natalia Málaga. 

Los Angeles (CA) 1984

Peruvian-born Natalia Málaga is a huge inspiration to many Olympic athletes (male or female) of Latin America since the mid-1980s when she began to make a name for herself in the world of volleyball after being regarded as one of the best players at the 23rd Summer Olympics at Los Angeles (CA). Although she missed out on winning a bronze medal, her Olympic performance has become emblematic in global volleyball.

Since then, Málaga was the ideal choice when Mr. Park had serious problems to qualify for the second round at the 1984 L.A Olympics, a goal that was difficult despite a Soviet-led boycott. From the beginning, Málaga did not disappoint when was selected to replace her countrywoman Carmen Pimentel, who had not a good performance during those years.

With a fighting spirit, Málaga led Peruvian delegation to a fourth place in the 1984 Summer Games,following a historic win over South Korea, twice global junior champion (1977 & 1981). This match was strong from the start: Peru beat SK 3-2 with the following scores: 15-8, 15-6, 7-15, 6-15, 15-13; Peru’s first victory over SKorea since the 1960s. Two years earlier, the Latin American republic was upset by SK 0-3 in the FIVB Women’s World Championships on home soil, one of the world’s major sporting occasions. 

As well as winning their match against SK, they knocked Canada 3-0 (15-9, 15-10, 15-4) out of the preliminary round, before losing to Japan 3-0 (15-8, 15-7, 15-5). Soon afterward, in the semi-finals, the Peruvian side was routed by US squad 3-0 (16-14, 15-9, 15-10), before falling to Japan 3-1 (14-16, 15-4, 15-7, 15-10) in the medal-bronze game.

Achieving a high level in volleyball in the mid-1980s, Málaga moved to Seoul to play for a short time in the South Korean championship (one of the most competitives in Far East), becoming one of the first Latino sportswomen to play in the Asian tournament, alongside Maria Isabel Alencar of Brazil (who played in Japan). Although her dream was to become a professional player in either Italy or Brazil. A dream that she realized toward the end of this decade.

The Road to South Korea 1988

In the middle of her golden years, Málaga went to what is now the Czech Republic to compete in the Global Tournament, following capturing the SA title and playing in the Republic of Korea. In the former Czechoslovakia, she and her colleagues gained a bronze medal by defeating East Germany 3-1. Without she, the national team could haven’t had so much respect from their rivals as Cuba, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Astonishingly, she could play all the six positions on the court. Over the next year, by 1987, they defeated Brazil 3-0 to win the SA Women’s Olympic Games Qualification Tournament at Maldonado, Uruguay, which followed the Peruvian contingent to compete for the XXIV Modern Olympiad, and claimed the Liberation Cup at Czechoslovakia months earlier. Later that event, they went to Japan where winning a Pre-World Cup. Certainly Peru’s long dream of Olympic gold in women’s team volleyball was almost realized in the following year.

After declining an invitation to compete at an international meet on Cuba’s capital city, the South American title-holders went to Korea in the quest for the Olympic glory. Aside from Málaga, the nation’s sportswomen were led by the future Hall of Famers Cecilia Tait and Gaby Pérez. Soon afterward, they gained a measure of historic revenge when the national side overcome the People’s Republic of China 3-2, sparking off celebrations on home soil. Less than six years before the national team gained its first Olympic medal, at home, Peru -a contingent made up of nine rookies– was upset by China in the gold-medal match at the FIVB World Championship. 

In a final as thrilling as the duel between USA and the USSR during the gold-medal game at the 1972 Olympic Basketball Tournament at Munich (West Germany), the Soviet Union -a group made up of 12 giants– had a come-from-behid five set win over Peru to win the gold-medal match at Seoul’88. In the meantime, the country’s female contingent dominated the sports pages for weeks for the first time in the Peruvian capital, an area traditionally monopolized by soccer. In fact, this Olympic final was a milestone in the history of Peru’s sports. 

For her big performance during the 1988 Seul Games, the high-flying athlete then played professionally in the Italian (often referred to as one of the world’s best tournaments) championship. She also was scheduled to play in Brazil. Within Brazilian circles, she was one of the most respected figures,along with the future Hall of Famers Tait and Ana Beatriz Moser ( a national sporting hero in her native country). Over the following years, she won her last Continental Contests in Brazil and Peru respectively. 

Under the leadership of Málaga, Gabriela Pérez del Solar and Sonia Ayaucam, the country’s sportswomen dominated the Regional Tournament held at Cuzco in 1993 by beating Brazil in the final game, after missing out to Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Subsequently, Malaga’s love and passion for her country led her to play ten more years, a period where she was still regarded by far as the most outstanding Peruvian volleyball player well ahead of young athletes. However, the country’s Golden Age finished and the Latin American republic never again was able to win regional titles. This also worsened due to a Brazilian strategy to find tall athletes to compete in the FIVB championships.

At the 2003 South American Tournament, Málaga competed for the last time at international level, but she failed to lead an Asian-style play against Brazil (0-3) and Argentina (2-3). Previously, Málaga was thrust into the spotlight in 2000 as she had been the athlete to inspire her delegation to win a berth for the Sydney 2000 Games during the SA Women’s Olympic Games Qualification Tournament on home soil, following a win over Argentina (3-2). Over the next years, her post on the national squad was taken by Leyla Chihuan (a professional athlete-turned- congresswoman since July 2011). 

When people from the Spanish-speaking world talk about the great influential volleyball players, they talk about Cecilia Tait, Luisa Fuentes, Mireya Luis Hernández, Regla Torres, Gabriela Pérez del Solar and, of course, Natalia Málaga. Because of these reasons and others, she should be inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame. She would be a tribute to all those sportswomen who are competing under unfavourable conditions in the developing world. 

A New Mission

Since the late 2000s, Málaga is back in the center of Peru’s volleyball: She has accepted a new challenge as coach of the Peruvian youth volleyball side. Before working with these teenagers, she was often invited by TV journalists to comment on volleyball matches. 

Under’s Málaga guidance, the host Peru will compete in the Under-19 World Championship in July 2011 in Lima and Trujillo (an amazing city on Peru´s north coast). As a coach, she is well-known for her passion, dedication, perseverance, consistency, and seemingly limitless capacity for hard work. In the meantime, she instilled in everyone of her charges concepts such as “don’t bend, win, work hard, love for Peru (her love for her country is a great example to all Peruvians)…never give up and always believe in yourself”.

Up to now, Málaga has guided her players to about five international medals. By 2010, for example, she led Peru’s youth sext to a bronze in the women’s volleyball at the Inaugural Youth Olympic Games at Singapore City (Southeast Asia), before winning a silver in the Under-19 Regional Tournament at Colombia. Recently, after declining an invitation to play frienldy matches in Russia, Natalia led her home country Peru to win the Under-20 Women’s Pan American Tournament at Lima with a team made up of very young individuals, among them Clarivett Yllescas (17), Brenda Uribe (17), and Ginna López (17). 

Upon witnessing Peru’s win, Málaga said, “This is a very important step in preparation for the FIVB World Championship here and I am very glad because it was one of our best games”. A month earlier, in May 2011, she and the Peruvian women’s training squad embarked on a four-week tour of Europe (Serbia, Turkey, Slovakia, Italy, and Spain), an international experience that was a key to win the Pan American gold medal.

In her spare time, on the other side, she enjoys surfing on the Peruvian coast, horseback riding, and playing with her little dogs at her homeland. She has a daughter.

London 2012

Through her hardworking personality and courage, Málaga has a huge desire: wants to resuscitate Peru’s volleyball, which had its golden age in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the last decades the senior national team – among the shortest/oldest teams on the Planet– has been defeated by Puerto Rico, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and other squads. By 2008, they lost to Venezuela for the Olympic qualification on home soil, being eliminated to participate at Beijing for the XXIX Modern Olympiad. This was a severe blow for Peru. Then, the national team had a difficult win over Costa Rica (25-18, 25-18, 32-34, 25-19) in last year’s FIVB World Championship in Japan. Recently, in July 2011, they -possibly the worst squad in the history of Peru’s volleyball– could not win the right to compete in the 2012 World Grand Prix after losing to Argentina (currently runner-up at the 2010 Regional Cup behind Brazil) 2-3. 

S.O.S: Peru Needs Giants Today!

Frankly speaking, the development of a new generation of winners will be a difficult mission:You cannot bring the Olympic standards of Europe, Brazil, and the People’s Republic of China to a country that has one of the worst Olympic budgets in the Western Hemisphere since the mid-1970s. In fact, sport is always ignored by local politicians after the multi-party polls. The budgets of the Latin American states are ten times higher than Peru’s national average. Ecuador -with a population of 14.5 million– has an annual budget of $ 100 million. The war-torn country of Colombia sends $ 160 million to their athletes. Venezuela’s Olympic contestants receive $ 200 million for their international preparation. Meanwhile the Peruvian rule –with one of the strongest economies in the Hispanic world– set aside $ 7 million for Olympic sport. This is a ludicrous sum. Under that atmosphere, the new generation of players has played in Peru–which has a population of over 30 million. 

The nation’s national Under-18 and Under-20 teams need several tours on Asia -you can see the example of Brazil’s girls when they visited the People’s Republic of China during a month in the mid-1980s–, Europe, and the States (should take advantage of Raquel Chumpitaz’s links with the American volleyball). Secondly, the Peruvian Volleyball Federation should set up an aggressive national project to find tall girls (1,80-2,00) in the country, from Tumbes and Ucayali to Tacna and Loreto, and outside of Peru to build teams make up of the best giants players from the country. All volleyball leaders should aim at that. It is very, very important for the future! Thirdly, due to her status as amateur athletes the teenagers and her other team-mates should get a big boost: scholarships, rewards, and special support from the Peruvian rule. This sport should be considered a national heritage in Peru -similar to the country’s cuisine, Machu Picchu, etc- as Brazil has made with the soccer. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, volleyball gave Peru the opportunity to reinforce its national pride and identity. As said once Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, ” Sport has the power to change the world, the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else can. Sport can create hope…It is an instrument for peace”. 

Malaga’s Girls

Angela Leyva: “The most likely future Mireya Luis Hernandez from Peru”. She possesses all the requisite qualities of an international superstar: Passion, tall, youth, and discipline. At the 2011 Under-18 Pan American Tournament at Mexico, she was a revelation with only 14 years old and 1,80m tall. Her performances against Chile and the Dominican Republic (during the bronze-medal match) are an example of her great future and Olympic spirit. Along with Andrea Urrutia (1,84m), Ginna López (1,85), Zoila Huaman (1,90), Sandra Santana (1,80), Rosa Valiente (1,82m), and Katherine Regalado (1,85m), she is one of Peru’s best hope of winning a South American trophy. Leyva is one of the youngest players for the pre-Peruvian side. 

Rafaela Camet: Born on 14 September, 1992 in Lima.This indoor female athlete plays since the latter half of the 2000s. At the age of 14 years old, she was one of the members of Peru’s Under-18 national volleyball team that competed at the FIVB World Cup in the United Mexican States in 2007. She has captured many international medals as well as a Pan American Junior gold medal. As well as winning these medals, she helped the Peruvian team to a sixth-place finish in the Under-17 World Cup in 2009.

Ginna López: She chose to wear the number 10 on her uniform. Despite having less experience that her team-mates, Ginna López (No 1 at national under-18 level) was Malaga’s secret weapon at the Under-20 Women’s Volleyball Pan American Tournament before a delirious home crowd in June 2011 (her international debut as a junior player). One of the moments most exciting was when the audience shouted “Ginna, Ginna…” Later on, more than 6,000 fans in attendance erupted into an ovation. Since then, she did not disappoint. Blocking strongly over the net, middle-blocker López was a key-athlete in the matches against Cuba and the Dominican Republic, who was runner-up in the last Junior World Cup, in the semis and finals in the continental meet. From the start of the Pan American event, López demonstrated that she is capable of playing a world-class game of volleyball. Another athlete had the post, but López convinced Málaga that she could do it better.Weeks ago, she, unfortunately, was not on a 28-day tour of Europe because of injury. However, while her colleagues head to Europe, she was invited to go to Swizerland to participate at the 2011 Montreaux Volleyball Master with the senior side, but she did not compete there. With a host of international matches in Far East, Europe and the States, she would be one of the greatest blockers in the Americas. She should gain a berth among the 12 players to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, she was left off the under-18 national volleyball squad because she was reserved to train in Lima with the junior squad. With her play, Peru’s under-18 national squad would have qualify for the finals at the Under-18 Pan American event in North America.

Brenda Daniela Uribe: She is a born-athlete! She comes from a well-respected family of volleyball players. Miss Uribe is well-known as a top scorer in the junior tournaments on Earth since the late 2000s. With only 15 years old, she,who stands 1,82m, led the Peruvian attack during the Under-17 World Tournament in the Kingdom of Thailand (Southeast Asia), where was one of the most outstanding athletes. As an offensive leader for the Peruvian side, soon afterward, she captured the bronze medal at the First Young Summer Olympics which were held at Singapore City. With 21 points, she also guided Peru to a come-from-behind four-set win over the Dominican Republic in the First Junior Pan American Cup. But that wasn’t all! Aside from being considered the Best Spiker, she was named the Championship’s Most Valuable Player. Ironically she was not member of the senior squad that competed in the last World Championship in Japan (2010). With her absence, Peru lost a big opportunity to improve its international status. Without a doubt, she is a key-player to defeat Brazil in the future! 

Zoila Huaman Correa: She was born on March 1, 1995 in Lima, Peru, beginning her sporting career at Deportivo Huanca. Huaman is one of the youngest players for the pre-Peruvian side. She has a host of online fans that want to see her as an official player on the Peruvian team. Because of her height, Huaman could be a multi-talented middle blocker as was Gabriela Pérez del Solar during her Olympic career in the latter half of the 80s and early 90s. A duet Zoila Huaman (1,90m) – Ginna López (1,85m) would be a perfect machinary to make points against Argentina and Brazil, both teams make up of giants. She earned a spot on Peru’s national under-18 squad that competed at the under-18 Pan American Championship.

Historically, Peru (Miss Pérez del Solar) and the USA (Flo Hyman, Rose Magers) have been pioneers to send giant players to the FIVB Tournaments in the 20th century, however, since 1993, Peru has been unable to produce giant players. By the mid-1980s, Gabriela Perez del Solar was an inspiration by the Brazilian and Cuban coaches (and Olympic czars) who to improve the Peruvian model in the next decades. My “big dream” was to see Gabriela Pérez del Solar (1,93m) and Sammy Duarte (1,92m) -thanks to Duarte, Peru beat the People’s Republic of China in five sets at the Under-19 World Cup in the late 1980s- as middle-blockers (as well as Katherine Horny and Paola Paz as official players) on the Peruvian side, but this never occurred. Instead of that, Peru sent a tiny squad to the Pre-Olympic event in Tokyo (Japan) and lost to America for the 1992 Olympian qualification (in many aspects, from sports to politics, in Peru always our past is better that our present).If Peru had five giant blockers (1,86- 1,95), it will be Olympic champ. With a strong work, international tours and much patience (of course), Huaman is an option. At the age of sixteen she holds a height of 1,90m! 

Clarivett Illescas (Captain): She will represent Peru in the Junior World Cup in her homeland. At the age of 17, she is a young but talented athlete in her home country of Peru. From Málaga’s training, she has developed an aggressive play with lethal attacks. Currently she is one of the top-scorers in the official tournaments. From 2008 to 2011, she captured at least five FIVB international medals in Singapore, Colombia, Cuba and other nations. This forceful athlete, should win a spot for the 2012 London Olympics due to her talent and Olympian discipline, as well as humble and sporting future. Peru needs a player as her to defeat the Brazilian side in the future competitions. 

Vivian Baella: Hailing from Rioja (San Martin, Peru), she made the decision to leave home at a very young age to follow their dreams as several Peruvian players. During a game against Argentina in the Young South American Championship in the late 2000s, Baella guided the Peruvian side to the win and gained the ticket to compete in the Under-18 FIVB World Championships when she was only 16 years old. Soon afterward, she and her team-mates made history when they defeated the People’s Republic of China 3-0 in the global tournament at Southeast Asia, where Peru became one of the six most respected teams on the Planet. In her hometown, she is a “celebrity”, in other words the “favorite daughter of Rioja”. 

Alexandra Muñoz: Born on 16 August, 1992. After four days battled matches against Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic at the Inaugural Junior Pan American Tournament, she picked up a total of two special awards: Best Setter & Best Server. She, who stands 1,77m in height, is a pivotal force on the Peruvian squad. Like Clarivett Yllescas, Zoila Huaman, Brenda Uribe, Ginna López, Angela Leyva, Sandra Santana, Katherine Regalado and Andrea Urrutia, she should be on the senior team and will represent Peru at the Grand Prix 2011.