Philip Barker

As the 2018 Mediterranean Games come to a close this weekend, thoughts are already turning to the next edition, to be held in the Algerian city of Oran in three years time.

"One of the lessons that Tarragona would like to share with Oran 2021 is the need to make a priority of only investment in those sports venues that will have a use after the Games," Tarragona deputy mayor and 2018 Games Commissioner Javier Villamayor told insidethegames.

"Try to take advantage of the infrastructure already in place that is already built and try to renovate it in order to provide, not just service for the Games, but also to all the community afterwards, for the citizens, the sports clubs and entities that are linked to the sports of the city and keep the budget tight.

"If you put in first place the needs of the delegations, maybe you will build more than necessary in the short term or in the medium term."

Tarragona 2018 executive director Victor Sanchez promised there will be a "transfer of knowledge" when the International Committee for the Mediterranean Games hold their Congress in October.

"Oran must say what they are learning now from here, but I think that every country is a different country and every edition is a different edition," said Sanchez.

"The only common thing is that the sport is the same, the concept is the same. The way in which they involve the population, the way they construct the stadiums, the way they make the investments, this is different every time."

The road to these Games has not been easy. In fact it should have been ''Tarragona 2017" before the Games were put back a year as a result of political and financial uncertainty.

"The economic situation in Spain and Catalonia has been very hard since 2008," said Villamayor. "Secondly the uncertainty involving the political parties and the political situation was very high, it was very difficult to deal with this.

"The situation with Catalonia and Spain, you can see every day, different sorts of misunderstandings between both administrations at the national and the regional Government, but our desire was to provide the best possible Games."

The 3x3 basketball was played in one of the more notable venues ©ITG
The 3x3 basketball was played in one of the more notable venues ©ITG

Organisers were criticised in the early days for problems with transport with even buses for the athletes failing to arrive.

There was a dedicated bus service from the centre of town to the Mediterranean Ring Complex and the local bus service was fast and efficient. There were entreaties to spectators to use public transport but although the regular public bus service worked very well, many were left wondering which bus to take.

For all the problems it has been a rewarding experience to be here. The historic old town of Tarragona is "Muy Romana". The Romans were here in ancient times and it is still possible to see the old walled city with narrow alleys looking out over the "Mare Nostrum" - the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea - itself. Below there is a Roman amphitheatre and the Rambla Nova is a delightful pedestrian thoroughfare where the locals walk and visit cafes.

They made use of the ancient backdrop for the newest sport, 3x3 basketball. It has taken place in a open air auditorium in the shadow of the castle and the old town was an inspired choice.

The Palau Désports, newly opened as the crown jewel in the Mediterranean Ring, made for a terrific setting for handball.

It was a great pity that the crowds were so small because the sport has often been compelling, although some times a little short of the top level.

In the old days, Wimbledon champion Manuel Santana included the Mediterranean Games in his schedule, but these days the likes of Nadal and Djokovic do not come.

Even so, in terms of competitors these are the biggest Mediterranean Games of all time.

"The number of world and Olympic champions taking part indicates the importance that National Olympic Committees place on this competition," said Sanchez.

The sprinkling of stardust came from Spain's three Olympic amigos who all delivered gold medal performances. Swimmer Mireia Belmonte heads off to Glasgow for the European Championships with double gold but may better remember one of the races she lost. The 400 metres freestyle was a truly epic tussle with Italy's Simona Quadarella and was decided only in the final strokes.

Belmonte will also remember the medal ceremony. The presentation party had not appeared as the three medalists stood waiting so she took matters into her own hands, quite literally, and hung the bronze around the neck of Diana Duraes of Portugal. 

"It appeared no-one else was going to do it," tweeted Belmonte later. Medal ceremonies at the pool seemed to be jinxed. The flags were missing on the first night.

At Castedefells, another Rio 2016 Olympic champion Marcus Cooper paddled to gold in the canoeing doubles. In the weightlifting, Olympic champion Lidia Valentin seized the opportunity of not one but two golds in a matter of little more than an hour.

Tarracus proved to be an extremely popular mascot ©ITG
Tarracus proved to be an extremely popular mascot ©ITG

Later in the week, Sandra Perkovic of Croatia, a double Olympic and world discus champion, became a double Mediterranean Games gold medallist by a huge margin.

The resort of Altafulla was one of 15 neighbouring communities used and the setting for the first gold medal in triathlon. The combination of a weekend, glorious weather and free sport proved irresistible. 

The picturesque seafront balconies had been given a lick of paint for the occasion and it was a carnival atmosphere as locals lined the beach and side streets to cheer on the competitors.

They made the most of a backdrop of an old castle on the hill, even if this did make for a hard climb during the cycling phase of competition. "It was more hilly with every lap," said Melanie Santos, who became the first champion of these Games. It was somehow fitting that she should come from Portugal, appearing for the first time.

No team had a greater struggle to be here than Kosovo. The new Olympic nation has no diplomatic relations with Spain but they will leave the country with Spanish gold. Their first successes came in judo. Distria Krasniqi was their maiden champion, taking the organisers' motto "welcome to history" in its most literal sense.

The mascot Tarracus was everywhere and he was mobbed like a popstar. How children under ten loved him. He had them dancing in the venues and everyone it seemed wanted a picture.

The ''Tarragonistas'' have promised us a fiesta at the Closing Ceremony on Sunday (July 1) evening. Many will be sorry to bid them all farewell.