At Dazzling Euros, Italy Solidifies Place among Elite Nations

LEN Juniores Swimming European Championship Bucharest 2022
Lorenzo Golassi; Photo Courtesy: Simone Castrovillari, DeepBlueMedia

At Dazzling Euros, Italy Solidifies Place among Elite Nations

The 2021 European Championships were barely 15 months ago, though it seems like nearly a different swimming era. At that meet, the Italian national team raised eyebrows with 10 gold medals and a competition-best 44 medals, capturing the swimming team trophy.

A year and three major events later, the Italian renaissance has proven to be anything but a fluke.

In home water in Rome at the 2022 European Championships, the Italians were sensational again. What started last year in Budapest as glimmers of developmental hope has coalesced into successive waves of excellence.

Italy was the clear champion of the meet, with 13 gold medals and 35 total medals in the pool. Their total of golds was equal to the next three nations combined. The 35 total medals were more than Hungary and Great Britain combined.

benedetta-pilato-100-breast-2022-world-championships-budapest-2

Benedetta Pilato; Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Across all disciplines, Italy tallied 24 gold medals (Ukraine and Britain were tied for second at 10 each) and 67 total medals, dwarfing second-place Britain. Those are the most in a single European Championships, surpassing the 23 golds and 47 total by Russia in 2018.

The performance solidified Italy’s place as the second-best swimming nation on the continent at the moment, trailing only Great Britain. It is a competitor with the depth to rank among the five best in the world.

The Tokyo Olympics provided hints. Italy finished with seven medals, fifth-most globally. For a country that had only 20 all-time swimming medals, it was a massive return, even if it didn’t include a gold. It wasn’t like Italy entered the Games with a bunch of nobodies – Federica Pellegrini, Gregorio Paltrinieri, even Simona Quadarella were well-known in swimming circles.

The men’s relays were particularly telling: Going toe-to-toe with the U.S., Great Britain and Australia and emerging with silver in the 400 free relay and bronze in the 400 medley was significant.

It also was just the start. At the Budapest World Championships this year, it finished third in the medal table with five golds and fourth on total medals with nine. Thomas Ceccon’s world record in the men’s 100 backstroke was the obvious headliner, and tying the European record in the men’s 400 medley relay en route to gold was monstrous. That foursome – Ceccon, Nicolo Martinenghi, Federico Burdisso and Alessandro Miressi – sets the template for emerging stardom.

The summer of 2022 brings all sorts of caveats. Attentions were divided in the first year of the condensed three-year sprint to Paris. The Commonwealth Games drew the attention of many Brits, members of the top European program of the moment. Russia was obviously absent.

But with two years to go to Paris, Italy is in a position to pose a threat at the final in just about every event.

The mainstays were there. Paltrinieri got gold in the 800 and silver in the 1,500, plus two open-water golds, with countryman Domenico Acerenza adding three medals. Ceccon burnished his all-around credentials with gold in the 100 back, silver in the 50 back and gold in the 100 fly, plus 400 free relay gold. Quadarella went for two golds and a silver in the women’s distance events. Alberto Razzetti translated his outstanding short-course speed into a pair of IM medals. Martinenghi (the 50-100 double) and Bendetta Pilato reinforced their standings as preeminent breaststrokers. Margherita Panziera’s 100-200 back double is impressive, overshadowed by the depth in those events in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

“It feels beautiful,” Ceccon said after the relay win. “Someone told me that even TV cameras were shaking a bit during our race which never happened before. The experience of these championships are memories to be cherished forever.”

Two aspects in particular stand out. The first is Lorenzo Galossi’s world junior record in the 800 free. There have been, you may have heard, a few decent freestyle types to emerge from the youth ranks in recent years. Galossi came to Rome on the back of dominant the European Junior Championships, to the tune of three golds and six total medals. Against the grownups, the 16-year-old won bronze in the 800, downing a world junior record that Mack Horton had held since 2013 by more than two seconds.

“I’m in shock, it was an incredible race, something we’ve been preparing a lot for,” Galossi said. “I’m very happy with time as I set a new junior world record and that’s amazing.”

The other is in women’s breaststroke, where Italy is in danger of leaving an outstanding swimmer at home for the next major event. In Rome, Pilato (easy for forget she’s still just 17 years old) won gold in the 100 and silver in the 50. Silver in the former went to Lisa Angiolini. Martina Carraro won silver in the 200 breast.

Not among those names was Arianna Castiglioni, who won silver at the 2021 Euros in the 100 breast. Nor was Francesca Fangio, who finished seventh in the event at Worlds.

That’s the kind of depth that only truly elite swim nations have. And Italy is now in that category.

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