Ona Carbonell Exit Interview – From Celebrity Master Chef to Sustainable Sportswear, the Artistic Swimming World Champion Opens Up
Written by: Torin Koos, World Aquatics Communication Manager
Shared from World Aquatics
Last week, Ona Carbonell – a two-time Olympic medallist who leads artistic swimming’s all-time world championship medal table with 23 podium visits – called time on her sporting career.
“Today is no ordinary day. It’s a day of change, evolution and learning. I’m happy and calm to have taken this decision. Above all, grateful.”
That’s how Ona Carbonell announced her retirement in an Instagram post in late May.
Just don’t look for the 32-year-old Barcelona native to ever be far from the water or the competitive artistic swimming scene. This week, the multi-talented Carbonell is getting as much TV time as she ever did as a competitor.
This time, it’s from the pool deck on the other side of the microphone. She’s interviewing athletes as they await their performance scores from the “Kiss & Cry” zone at the World Aquatics Artistic Swimming World Cup 2023 – Super Final that’s currently taking place in Oviedo, Spain.
A Legendary – and Lengthy – Career
To know where Carbonell is going, you need to know a bit about where she’s been and what she’s done in artistic swimming. A rhythmic gymnast in her early formative sporting years, she quickly took to artistic swimming.
“Every summer since I was a child, my family would go to the Balearic Island of Menorca. Every day I’m there, I’m in the water for 10 hours. My parents would say, ‘You’re like a fish.’
“Artistic swimming mixes my rhythmic gymnastics background with music and water. When I found it and I started, I immediately understood that this is my sport.”
It didn’t take long for success to follow. As a 16-year-old, she took her first World Championships medal in the Women Team Technical event at the World Aquatics Championships – Melbourne 2007.
Her last Games came at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics where she competed less than one year after the birth of her child, Kai. This helped spur her work for the betterment of sports and athletes, passionately advocating for women’s equality in returning to work.
“Sport has been on a very big and fast evolution in many areas. From biomechanics, nutrition, physical and psychological training,” said Carbonell. “But about mothers, we haven’t seen this evolution in sport.”
To aid this progression, Carbonell helped start and is now the president of the Maternity and Sport Commission for the Spanish Olympic Committee. Soon, she hopes among the changes to take place will be high-performance training centres adding kindergartens so that women can continue with their elite sports careers.
“We need more professionals that know how to work with elite athletes that are mothers,” Carbonell added. “We need to bring in the knowledge of doctors and the medical community to help coaches with this. The months after pregnancy, how you can come back and compete at a high level, we need more professionalism in this.”
The Mermaid Gets the White Jacket | Success on Master Chef Celebrity
With two Olympic medals and then 17 World Championship podiums to her credit, Carbonell looked for a small break from the intense artistic swimming training regimen she’d been on for a decade plus. That’s when Master Chef Celebrity television producers approached her about being a contestant on the show.
“I didn’t know anything about cooking – nothing!” Carbonell recalls. “They had me take a cooking exam. I thought they wanted me on Master Chef because they needed someone to cook fatally.”
The showrunners, though, called back and offered her a place for the show’s third edition. That’s when the mentality of the elite sportsperson kicked in.https://www.instagram.com/reel/CrJaDcYgVC4/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=14&wp=1080&rd=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.worldaquatics.com&rp=%2Fnews%2F3527508%2Fona-carbonell-career-exit-interview-exclusive-world-champion-synchro-artistic-swimming-celebrity-master-sustainable-sportswear-fashion-women-equality%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR3YUbxGgYrJu5egOBsCjQ4PabD#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A766.5%2C%22ls%22%3A193%2C%22le%22%3A674.0999999977648%7D
“I came in with the idea of not making a fool of myself. I started to study everything I could about gastronomy. I begin to work with some great chefs from the best restaurants in the world, including Jordi Rocca and Diego Guerro. I went from swimming 10 hours to cooking 10 hours a day.”
The culinary show finale pitted Carbonell against the actress Paz Vega. With a warm consommé comprised of a sardine belly in suspension, endive with frog legs, and a dessert she named the Himalayan Deshielo made from cucumber, mint, apple and peach, Carbonell took the title.
In the competition, there were many famous personalities – from famous movie directors and actresses to comedians and singers.
“They kept telling me, “You’re so disciplined,” Carbonell recalled. “When I chef would tell me this is bad, I’d say, ‘Okay, no worry. I will be better!’
“Everyone else on the show was telling me that sport gives me this attitude for other areas in my life. This spills out in my cooking. Sport and eating go well together, right?”
Fashion-forward Swimwear Designer with a Climate Conscience
The other big lifelong passion in Carbonell’s life has always been fashion and design, an area she studied at university. Her first real forays in the field came in designing swimsuits for Royal Spanish Swimming Federation.
“When I was competing, I designed the suits for the Spanish federation. It was a great opportunity to design my own swimsuits,” Carbonell said. “Now, I’m creating my own brand. It’s very exciting. I start my collection with swimsuits and bikinis.”
The self-titled brand – Ona Carbonell – has a distinct selling point: every fibre of the product is sourced and created in the most environmentally-friendly way possible.
“Everything is made from plastics from the sea. All the fabric, everything that it takes to make a swimsuit, it’s recycled,” Carbonell said. “We think of doing everything the right way – even the way that we dye the clothes is another process. We don’t contaminate the environment when colouring our fabric. Every part of the process is focused on taking care of our planet, and especially our ocean.”https://www.instagram.com/reel/CpqPQAaAzzK/embed/?cr=1&v=14&wp=1080&rd=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.worldaquatics.com&rp=%2Fnews%2F3527508%2Fona-carbonell-career-exit-interview-exclusive-world-champion-synchro-artistic-swimming-celebrity-master-sustainable-sportswear-fashion-women-equality%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR3YUbxGgYrJu5egOBsCjQ4PabD#%7B%22ci%22%3A2%2C%22os%22%3A768.8999999985099%2C%22ls%22%3A193%2C%22le%22%3A674.0999999977648%7D
With over eight million tons of plastic entering the planet’s oceans every year, the swimwear line is driven by eco-innovation at all levels of the supply chain.
“We work with local fishermen. They pick up a lot of plastics in the sea. I know it’s difficult and it’s more expensive to do fashion this way, but I want to change the mentality of fashion,” Carbonell said. “Fashion design is one of the world’s most environmentally costly industries and has a direct impact on our climate. We need to change the way we’re going in fashion and commerce.
“I do everything in my country, in my city of Barcelona, added Carbonell. “Proximity, it’s important.”
The fledgling sportswear designer concedes that the business model isn’t tailored to maximising profits.
“Maybe for the moment, our business model isn’t the most sustainable from a profit perspective. But I want to start little by little. But what I really want and am after is changing the mentality of how we do fashion.
“Already, we’re starting to work on some exciting collaborations with some very big and important names in the space. I can only hint at what this will be right now. But there are some really good projects underway. Stay tuned!”
Back at the Pool Beside the Kiss & Cry Couches, Microphone in Hand
In artistic swimming, you express. The athletes are not shy around the camera. Carbonell is not an exception to this rule.
Working in media and broadcasting is something that a recently retired swimmer has dabbled in before.
“I always want to be close to sport, with artistic swimming. It’s my world, it’s my passion, my life. But now it’s good to see it from a different perspective. Now I don’t have to hold my breath and be so cold, so it’s all good,” she says, laughing.
“I’m close with sport, just in a different way. I don’t know if I want to pursue this full-time. Right now, my priority is on being a mother and projects like my clothing brand. But in the future, why not?”