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London 2012: How well did the Italians do?

After fifteen days of high and lows, tears and joys, the London 2012 Summer Olympics have finally come to a close last Sunday. What an emotional fortnight has been for sport fans all over the world! Truth is that, as usual and as expected, Team USA and China dominated the medals’ count in all disciplines, followed somewhat closely by the UK. Some of the American athletes have become Italians’ favorites, too: Michael Phelps conquered us with his good boy grin and, let’s admit it, his mom’s antics during his races were heart warming. Missy Franklin is a portent of nature and how not to fall in love with the talented and oh-so-charming girls of the US gymnastics team? Gaby, McKayla, Jordyn, we adopted them almost as our own.

What to say about Team Italy, though, about our own athletes? Well, for most Italian sport fans, London 2012 has been a bittersweet affair. Whereas we did incredibly well in sports such as fencing (3 golds, 2 silvers and 2 bronzes), shooting (2 golds and 3 silvers), where Jessica Rossi also smashed the world record and boxing (2 silvers and 1 bronze, although we all hoped for a Clemente Russo’s victory!), some others disciplines have deluded. Yes, Italian Swimming Team: we are looking at you. It has been 28 years since Italy did not win a single olympic medal in the pool, and let’s face it, we did not expect to come back empty ended this year, either; although some swimmers did perform well, the big names have truly disappointed. Federica Pellegrini, who is still holder of two world records, has hit the headlines more often thanks to her love story with fellow swimmer and “azzurro” Filippo Magnini, than her performances. SuperFede, as she is lovingly known to the Italian public, has left London empty handed and decided to take a year off swimming to charge up and, hopefully, come back on top.

SuperFede: too much attention to her private life?

The Italian track and field team has been hit by the Alex Schwazer scandal  towards the end of the Olympics: the Süd-Tirolese race walker, who won a gold in the discipline’s 50 km in Beijing, has been found positive to erythropoietin, a performance enhancing drug he confessed to have sought out and bought of his own accord, without the involvement of his coaches and team. Beside being an enormous blow to the image of the Italian track and field team, the exclusion of Schwazer from the Olympics also deprived Italy of a more than likely win; the rest of the athletics team had already reached british shores with very little hope for a place on the podium, a very sad fact when considering that the lack of top athletes in track and field disciplines comes mostly down to lack of funding in such sports at youth  and school level, where young talents are found and harvested.

Volleyball was another sport where we hoped to do well: we do love it, we do play it and we have always been one of the top teams in the world; the boys’ bronze medal is a good result, although I must admit , as a huge volleyball fan, I did hope for something more, especially after having spectacularly eliminated the overall favorites of the tournament, the USA. The girls’ team, on the other hand, did disappoint a little: they could have done more, many felt, and loosing to Korea has been a bit of a humiliation.

Let’s be clear, Italy has not performed badly in London: we did get a good amount of gold medals and reached a great deals of finals, some of which could have been won. The feeling is, though, that we did not succeed where it may have been easier, because we had the best athletes, just as it happened in the pool, or in the case of women’ volleyball. The secret of success is always the same, train hard and keep concentration high and maybe some of ours did not really do it. The fact is also, and it would be unfair not to admit it, that other nations quite simply have better athletes and not necessarily for a matter of genes: as for everything in this day and age, sports need money to grow and develop; they need money to create the infrastructures necessary for training or to fix up those already in place. And the sad truth is that many olympic disciplines do not pay good enough dividends for investors to be interested. The results are often seen on international level, where our athletes struggle to place successfully among the best.

In the end though, let’s enjoy and celebrate the winners, and let’s hope there will be twice as many in four years’ time: Rio de Janeiro, be ready for the Italian contingent!

Francesca Bezzone

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