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BULLFIGHTING

Disaster prone one-eyed matador Juan Jose Padilla is gored again

Juan Jose Padilla knows what it is like to be gored by a bull.

Disaster prone one-eyed matador Juan Jose Padilla is gored again
Padilla's scarred eye socket was revealed. All Photos: AFP

In 2001 he almost died when he suffered a terrible goring to his throat by one of the legendary Miura bulls during a bullfight for San Fermin in Pamplona.

In May 2011 during a bullfight in Zaragoza he was tossed into the air by a bull which then thrust one of its horns into his head, piercing his skull and smashing up his face.

The incident shattered his jaw, left him deaf in one ear and forced the removal of his left eye. It also earned him the sobriquet El Pirata  – The Pirate – because of the eye-patch he donned when he returned to the bullfighting circuit five months later.

But more injuries followed.

A year later, he escaped serious injury when during the San Isidro festival in Madrid he was thrown into the air by a bull.

Then last October, revisiting the same bullring where he lost his eye, he was again gored in the same eye-socket after kneeling in front of a charging bull but amazingly escaped with little more than a concussion.

Watch video of the latest goring of Juan Jose Padilla on Sunday March 13th. Warning: graphic footage:

Then on Sunday evening during a bullfight to celebrate Las Fallas in Valencia, the disaster-prone torero once again found himself hooked on the horns of a half-tonne beast.

This time his eye patch was ripped from his face and his false eye popped out. The 43-year-old was gored through the thigh and again in the chest. But somehow, Padilla got up from this and killed the bull. He cut off an ear and staggered out of the ring, taking his trophy with him to hospital where doctors described both injuries as serious.

He suffered a punctured lung but is said to be recovering well.

In an interview from his hospital bed he said that he hoped to be back in the ring bullfighting within months.

“It’s more than lucky, it’s a miracle: Once again the hand of God was on me,” he told Spanish agency Efe.

“This was a bad one,” he admitted. “But I’ll be back”.

MADRID

How the pandemic has put the careers of Spain’s trainee bullfighters on hold

Cries of "Toro, toro!" echo round the empty stands at Madrid's world-famous bullring where two young apprentice bullfighters have seen their promising careers abruptly halted by the pandemic.

How the pandemic has put the careers of Spain's trainee bullfighters on hold
Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Wearing a tracksuit, trainers and an FFP2 mask, 22-year-old Alvaro Burdiel holds out his vibrant fuchsia-and-mustard cape in front of him. With his arms rigid and shoulders proud, he has the gesture down to a tee.

A bullfighting hopeful, he already experienced one triumphal entry through the main gate at Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring, borne on the shoulders of his supporters in October 2019 — a matador’s greatest honour.

Right now, he doesn’t know when he’ll be back in the ring again, but he hasn’t missed one of his daily classes on the ochre-coloured sand inside this historic venue in the heart of the Spanish capital.

“We all have ups and downs. But that’s where the passion shows through – in persevering,” he says. “In those moments, that’s what makes you stand out from the rest: not giving up.”

‘Decisive years’

A little further away is 19-year-old Guillermo Garcia who was lucky enough to be chosen to fight on May 2nd in the first bullfight to be put on at Las Ventas in 18 months.

Wearing a sage green t-shirt, he twitches his cape slightly, catching the sand in a bid to provoke the beast in front of him.

But there is no bull today – only a fellow student gripping a pair of horns. His back hunched and breathing heavily, he lunges forward with everything he’s got.

On this April afternoon, there are about 20 young students tirelessly running through the choreography of the bullfight.

Trainee bullfighters at Madrid’s Las Ventas. Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

At one side stands a “carreton”, a bulls head mounted on a wheelbarrow-like contraption that can also be used to simulate the charge.

The teachers try to keep their students’ enthusiasm up, despite the uncertainties hanging over the season, which normally runs from March to October but was cancelled last year because of the pandemic.

In the southern city of Seville, which is also known for its love of bullfighting, all the events planned for mid-April had to be cancelled due to virus restrictions.

At Las Ventas, the school is run by famed former matador José Pedro Prados, popularly known as El Fundi.

“Slowly! Don’t lift your heel until the last moment, move from the waist – that’s it!” he calls. “We take them to ranches to keep their spirits up and maintain their enthusiasm,” he says.

“Bullfighting schools are having a really hard time” because of the restrictions put in place due to the virus, he adds.

“There were youngsters who were at their peak when everything shut down. And this could end up halting them in their tracks because these are decisive years for many people’s careers.”

Teen in the arena

The stands are deserted except for a handful of workers repainting the barriers ahead of Sunday’s reopening.

Closed since October 2019, Las Ventas managed to get the authorisation to hold a bullfight on Sunday with just 6,000 spectators in an arena that normally holds 44,000.

On the bill are stars like El Juli and Enrique Ponce alongside the young Guillermo Garcia, who is listed as a novillero, or novice matador. Still a teenager, Garcia has got this far thanks to his sheer dedication, says El Fundi.

Trainee bullfighter in Madrid. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

“Since the beginning… there’s always been something different about him, he is serious, he has a lot of strength and enthusiasm and he’s always been very committed to training.”

But Garcia admits he’s had moments of doubt over the past year. “It’s been very hard because you didn’t know if you’d ever get the chance to prove yourself after all this training. But I told myself that sooner or later they were going to reopen the bullrings and that one day I’d get my chance to perform.”

And Sunday won’t be easy, admits the youngster who is studying business management.

“It’s going to be difficult when I go out to fight and see people wearing masks, seated apart and with the stands half empty.”

There also won’t be any triumphal entry through the main gate with the victorious matador carried on the shoulders of his supporters because of restrictions on gatherings.

“That’s just the way it is,” he sighs. “But the bull doesn’t care about the pandemic, it’s all the same to him.”

Even if the health crisis drags on longer than expected, there is no shortage of eager students keen to show off their skill.

One is six-year-old Nico. It’s “practice bullfighting,” he explains very seriously as he dances around the sand in a cape, wielding his miniature sword.

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