MADRID, Spain In just seven days from the soccer field in Austria to the lawn at Wimbledon Spanish sports transformed itself into pure gold.
A nation rollicked after winning the European Championship June 29 with a 1-0 victory over Germany. More followed on Sunday when native son Rafael Nadal captured tennis's marquee event in an epic five-set Wimbledon slugfest against mighty Roger Federer.
Gone was all that anguish in which the national soccer team left its fans crushed. Gone was the annual exercise in disappointment at the All England Club.
A nation's sports demons were put to rest.
"There are entire centuries when a country accomplishes nothing at all, and then there are weeks like this past one in which it shatters its most deep-rooted inferiority complexes," said Javier Romano, a columnist for the Spanish sports newspaper Marca.
It is hard to think of a more unlikely combination than the soccer and tennis titles. Not because Spain has been bad at either sport but because it has always managed to fail despite being so good.
Spain's national soccer team has overflowed with talent for years, but it had not won an international competition since 1964 when it hosted the European Championship. There has been no shortage of Spanish tennis stars, but the country had not produced a men's Wimbledon champion since 1966 when Manuel Santana defeated Dennis Ralston.
At the time, Gen. Francisco Franco ruled Spain, and the country was an economic backwater.
Today, Spain is a vibrant democracy with the world's eighth-largest economy. Its cities and beaches are clogged with tourists. Its homegrown movie stars like Javier Bardem, Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz are international sensations.
The country's transformation into a sports giant has been just as extraordinary.
Spain boasts two of the world's greatest soccer clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Its national basketball team is the reigning world champion, and home to Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol. Sergio Garcia is an unquestioned golf star, driver Fernando Alonso is a two-time Formula One champion and cyclist Alberto Contador is the 2007 Tour de France champ. Even in lesser-known sports like handball and water polo, Spain has been dominant.
Santiago Segurola, the dean of the country's sports writers, attributes Spain's success to increased private and public funding, advances in women's rights and a marked improvement in the peoples' wealth and health since Franco's 1975 death.
"Before the death of Franco, we were a poor country, a poorly run country," he told The Associated Press. "Now, there is no country that matches Spain for champions."
Spain's emergence since Franco can also be seen in its Olympic statistics. From the start of the modern Olympics in 1896 until 1976, the country won a total of 11 Olympic medals. Since 1992, it has won 69, including 23 by Spanish women, Segurola said.
The twin triumphs in soccer and tennis touched off a frenzy. Revelers poured into the streets following Euro 2008 and newspaper columnists this week debated this week whether Nadal is the greatest sports star in Spanish history. Not to be discounted in that argument is Miguel Indurain, a five-time Tour de France winner.
Yet for a country grappling with a sharp downturn in the housing market, skyrocketing fuel and food costs and rising unemployment, the victories have meant something else: an excuse to celebrate.
"Sports makes us proud to be Spanish," said Juan Carlos Galdon, a 27-year-old locksmith in Pamplona who on Tuesday watched the traditional running of the bulls.
"We all have our own personal and economic problems," he said. "But, in the end, it is important to overcome them with happiness."