A trip down the Olympics memory lane

I grew up watching all kind of sports with my dad.
A lot of memories I have with him are linked with sport.
My mom can’t stand us: every season has its event, that we MUST watch, then one ends and something else, that we MUST watch, comes along.

Seems natural that every four years, every leap year, August means one thing only: the Olympics rings are coming! And here we are again today.

(Felipe Dana/AP)

If I force myself to think back as far as possible, the very first flash I can find in the abyss of the mind, is Sydney2000. It’s not a race or a game: it’s a medal ceremony.
Outside, with the Opera House in the background.

Antonio Rossi and Beniamino Bonomi win the K2 1000mt but I don’t remember it, I can playback only them going on the highest step of the podium and the italian flag moving in the wind.
And for me, Sydney’s that, just that: I was 7 so I think I could remember something more, but I don’t.

4 years later, Athen was awaiting for me with the best gift I’ve ever received.
The only thing I used to care about those days was basketball. No joking: only thought from when I woke up to when I went back to sleep.
A few weeks before the Olympics, during a friendly game, my national team (Italy), a group of player that nobody would have bet on, had beaten the US team, first time ever. But you know, we didn’t think it was possible in a official one. 
But that group entered history, not in the final though. Semifinal: in front of us, the Lithuanian team:
Ginevičius, M. Žukauskas, Macijauskas, Štombergas, Šiškauskas, Songaila, Slanina, E. Žukauskas, Lavrinovič, Jasikevičius, Šalenga, Javtokas. 
I’d still want all of these players in my team, any day.
But something magical was about to go down, something that I’ll never forget, a game that still doesn’t bore me when I watch it, after all this time.

Radulovic, Basile, Galanda, Soragna, Marconato, Pozzecco, Righetti, Rombaldoni, Bulleri, Mian, Chiacig, Garri.

These twelve men, led by coach Charlie Recalcati, did what all of Italy didn’t think was possible: they got to play the final at the Olympic Games! And yes, they didn’t win that one. But I, a 11 year old kid, got to see the National Team one step higher than the US Team. 
It’s not about being better than someone that has always won, it’s about seeing with your own eyes that everything is possible. And once you get on top, you finally know why everyone wants to stand there.
I will never thank enough these guys for this one memory, it’s one of the few I cherish the most.

(Ciamillo Giulia LaPresse)
“Everyone dreams of expierincing these kind of emotions. And it was blatant, before the game, that we couldn’t just brush it off. It was THE game.” — Gianmarco Pozzecco

Athen is also the place where Italy fell in love with a young swimmer, that in all the years that came after, made us cheer like no one else before.
Federica Pellegrini started off with a Silver medal, and never stopped after that.
This was only her putting the first foot in History. And that kid’s face hide a true champion.

In fact, four years later when she came back to conquer Beijing, she was not an outsider anymore, her palmares was much bigger: she had to win.
And like the best of stories, the beginning is one of struggle: in the 400mt race she basically “choke”, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Hopefully in the same day she came trough with a great race in the 200mt and just two days after the disaster, she won the gold medal, and broke the world record.
Federica is one the greatest italian athlets in our history, without a doubt. And this year, in what will be her final Olympic Games, she will lead the Italian team, carrying the flag in the opeing ceremony. What a way to put and end to a career like hers!

A few months before Beijing, I had stumbled in the peak moment of a world record breaker.
Yelena Isinbayeva, russian, had all the eyes on her in Rome, at the Golden Gala. All the events had already ended but the vault pole competition.
Well, the race among the athletes had finished too. But she was still competing against herself and her dream: beating as many world records as her hero, Sergei Bubka. On the third attempt, with the bar at 5.03mt, she got one record closer to that dream.
And in August in the Nest Stadium, once again she competed against herself and no one else. And with the bar at 5.05mt she got another record closer to Sergei.

(Julie Jacobson | AP)

Yelena Isinbayeva has been for the longest time my favorite athlete ever, even when things were rough and maybe the idea of being unbeatable made her lose times and times again.
This year, she won’t be at the Games, and even though my admiration for her is not as strong as it once was, I think we’ll be missing what could have been one hell of a historic moment…

Another italian story that bring me to tears all the time is the Beijing dream of Valentina Vezzali
So, every year Italian fencing team swap away the medals, and for that reason, being an italian athlete and winning every year is hard: because on the platform you have to face your friends, that are pretty strong. This rule doesn’t apply to Valentina though, who managed to win three Olympic gold medals, one after the other. From Sydney to Beijing, the crown of foil has had written her name on. And the final in Beijing was one beautiful to watch. But nothing gives me chills like her celebration afterwards.

“When the party will begin you will be queen | everyone will stop and stare | when the party will end we’ll come back on earth | everyone will rember to have seen a star”

London is the hardest one to remember. I had just finished high school, and thinking about it is so strange: it seems a completly different life.
I was on a plane, flying in from Mallorca, when the first of two finals was happening.
Once at home, I played the video I had asked my parents to record. 
I didn’t know. 
Sync 3mt springboard women. Tania Cagnotto and Francesca Dallapè, at the peak of their career, unbeaten european champions since 2009, one silver medal at the world championship. We all knew that no one could beat the chinese duo, but below there were two positions we could reach. I am so fond of these two girls, and a lot of emotion is involved when I’m in front of the tv.
It happens though: good prove, the points are good, not excellent but at the last round we’re still there to make it.
2,70 points and we’re 4th.
I won’t lie: tears happened. Everyone thought that was the first and last chance to win that Olympic medal, and put a full stop to one of the most beautiful stories of success and friendship. We really thought that was it: 
4 european golds, 1 world silver. It wasn’t bad I know, but a Olympic medal, whatever the “flavor”, would’ve meant a perfect story to tell in the years to come.
Anyway, there’s no time to cry too much at the Olympics: 7 days later Tania got another final, solo this time. This medal means everything: it is the last shot to have her name written in the Book. 26 years for a diver means the last dances, and she got in London knowing that this one race, those 5 dives, they are everything. She’s ready. She was born for August 5th 2012.
The race is good, not excellent, but at the final round we’re still up there for the third place (note that the Chineses can’t be beaten, and in the solo race there are two of them, so everyone else is competing for one color: bronze is the only thing finalists see.)
It can’t be happening.
Not like this.
0,20 points and we’re 4th.
She’s crying. I’m crying. Even my mother is crying.
She really think she’s done. She really wants to retire here. There’s no point in going back to training, right?
That was the cruelest day ever. I really thought I was seeing the end of Tania Cagnotto and I was so mad it had to be like that.

And everything else that happened in London, is just blur to me.
Because that August 5th that I thought was the end, it was really just a semicolon. And that semicolon, the memory of her tears and her disappointment were the baseline to the hunger. An hunger that kept Tania company in the four years we’ve just finished living, to today: August 5th. 
Yep: we’re trying it again. Tania and Francesca will challenge the odds, go against what’s rational and try to get what they truly deserve.

I’m so pumped for this Olympics.
Some of the athletes that I’ve loved in the years will came full circle in Rio. 
And some that I’ve beginning to know only recently will approach their first call to History. And as always, me and my dad will be on the couch in front of the tv, no matter what faith the timezone decides for us.

athletes I’ll be watching closely: Tania Cagnotto and Francesca Dallapè, Federica Pellegrini, Gregorio Paltrinieri, Katie Ledecky, Katinka Hotzu, Michael Phelphs, Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, USA Basketball Men and Women, USA Football team Women, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci…

And I’m sure I will fall in love with many I don’t even know the name now, and that’s what I really like about sports: great stories, are just around the corner, awaiting to be witnessed.