As Career Of Federica Pellegrini Comes To a Close, Tributes Pour in For ‘Legend’

federica-pellegrini-centurions
Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

As Career Of Federica Pellegrini Comes To a Close, Tributes Pour in For ‘Legend’

When Federica Pellegrini touched the wall after anchoring the Aqua Centurions’ 4×100 mixed medley at Sunday’s ISL playoff, it was the final moment of her competitive career.

It was a career that spanned 17 years and five Olympics and she leaves the pool with her 200 freestyle world record still intact.

At the Olympics in Tokyo – 17 years after she won 200 free silver on her Games debut at Athens 2004 – Pellegrini more history as she became the first female swimmer to reach a fifth straight final in an event when she did so in the 200 free, eventually placing seventh.

Seemanova Pellegrini European Championships

Photo Courtesy: Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

In September she announced that the ISL in Naples would represent her final bow only to continue with Aqua after they reached the playoffs in Eindhoven.

On Sunday, the 33-year-old finished third over 200 free before she swam the freestyle leg in the mixed medley relay as Aqua came fifth.

And so concluded a career that brought two Olympic medals, six world titles among 11 medals and seven European golds as part of an overall haul of 20.

She reached the podium at every World Championships since 2005 in the 200 free and leaves the pool as the defending champion following victory in 2019 and 2017.

Becky Adlington swam many a time in the same pool as the Italian and ahead of her retirement, she told Swimming World:

“Words can’t describe somebody at the top of her game like her.

“It just shows her mental strength which must be unbelievable to train for that long as well because it isn’t just the racing, it’s putting your body through that amount of training for that length of time is absolutely huge.

“It shows her physique and her race ability too: she must just love to race to be able to do it for as long as she did.”

Adlington won the 400 free in Beijing in which Pellegrini had arrived as world record-holder and favourite.

Instead, she was fifth but responded to the blow by returning to set a world record of 1:55.45 in the 200 heats the very same day en-route to gold.

Adlington recalled:

“She was really good at the 400 back then: she is somebody I raced so much.

“Sometimes you go to these top meets and you think is that person going to be in shape and they can be a bit hit and miss whereas with Federica you could always rely on her to put in a good performance.

“She was one of those you just knew was going to be a tough competitor to stand up and race against her.

“I never liked racing against her on the 200 because I knew I stood no chance and her back end and speed is absolutely immense.

“The stand-out has got to be the world record: even now, even today I go ‘how is that the world record?’ It is just absolutely insane. It is such an incredible world record – you just go how is that even possible?”

There was clearly a two-way respect and warmth between the pair with Adlington adding:

“She got an immense amount of respect poolside.

“You get these athletes that everybody likes, everybody warms to and everybody looks up to and respects and kind of is a role model – I think she is one of those.

“Everybody is just a little bit in awe of her to be honest.”

Mel Marshall competed in Athens in 2004 and Beijing four years later, finishing 16th in the 200 at the former.

She also appeared in the women’s 4×1 and 4×2 free finals, a feat she repeated in Beijing in the short relay while being locked out by one place in the 4×2 heats.

July 27, 2011; Shanghai, CHINA; Federica Pellegrini (ITA) celebrates after winning the women's 200m freestyle final the 14th FINA World Championships. Mandatory Credit: OSports via US PRESSWIRE

Photo Courtesy: Osports/ Swimming World Archive

Marshall – who is now coach to Adam Peaty and Luke Greenbank – told Swimming World:

“Legend. I think she’s got 58 international medals: that is just incredible.

“I raced her to start with and I’ve taken an interest in her career: she has just got an incredible race tactic, she’s incredibly tough, the things she’s gone through.

“The ones she’s won have been such a dramatic win: I am a real big fan of her coach Matteo (Matteo Guinta, coach and fiancee), I think he’s a real innovator and I think he writes brilliant sessions.

“She has just been incredible to watch really in terms of a racer and I’ve just seen her grow into this superstar alongside. She’s got style, she’s got class – she’s a brilliant female role model.”

Freya Anderson was third in the 200 free at the European Championships in May, one place behind Pellegrini in a race won by Barbora Seemanova.

Anderson was three when Pellegrini won silver in Athens, something she describes as “insane”, telling Swimming World.

“At the  world championships she has medalled every single time in the 200: it is just insane again.

You don’t have to be at the top of your game in your 20s – you can have that longevity and she is a prime example of it.

“She is an absolute living legend, I don’t know how she does it, she gets it right every time.”