Dispatches from Italy: Claudio Mangini Interviews Ratko Rudic, Master Water Polo Coach

Ratko Rudic, arguably the greatest water polo coach of his generation, is waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to break. Photo Courtesy: Laszlo Balogh

Editor’s Note: Given the devastation in Italy, Swimming World has taken particular interest in the circumstances surrounding aquatics sports in the European country hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis. Claudio Mangini, a well-respected journalist for Il Secolo XIX, spoke recently with the great Ratko Rudic, a four-time Olympic gold medal-winning coach and currently the leader of Pro Recco’s men’s squad.

The paradox: the “Acchiappaoro” this time could end the season without success. The technician who systematically transforms the challenges into victories, at the moment, has no goals to achieve.

pro-recco-logoRatko Rudic, the man of the Grand Slam from out of the water polo blue—who at 70 years accepted a new challenge on the bench of Pro Recco—is a general without an army.

[Searching for Past Glory, Pro Recco Hires Four-Time Olympic Winner Ratko Rudic as Coach]

His foreign champions returned home after the last championship game (March 7), when the rallies for the Olympic qualifying tournament were still scheduled and then canceled; the Italians are at home; when he decided to leave for Croatia he was stuck. He is in Recco, in contact with his musician daughter, friends, players through social networks, like everyone else.

– Have you ever been in such a situation?

When there was war in the Balkans, I was in Italy. I have not had the experience of having limited personal freedom. Now we have to live with it. Not me: everyone.

– Will we come out better after this?

I see the solidarity and commitment of those who are part of the institutions, of those who work for health. Afterwards, when everything ends, we will want a big party. But I think this spirit of solidarity will remain.

– You are one of the supporters of #PallanuotoUnita

Our community has mobilized to raise funds for hospitals engaged in the fight against the virus.

[#PallanuotoUnita is a community exercise to to help those fighting coronavirus. It was launched by the Cristiano Tosi Foundation, which brought together many personalities from the Italian water polo community to raise funds for several hospitals where healthcare workers battle against Covid-19 day after day. Among this dedicated to the cause are goalkeeper Gianmarco Nicosia, Serbian Radomir Drasovic and Montenegrin Dejan Lazovic. Many other players and coaches have joined them, including Sandro Campagna, Carlo Silipo, Rosaria Aiello, Chiara Tabani, Vincenzo Dolce and Stefano Luongo.  You can see their appeals on the YouTube page of the Tosi Foundation:

– The Italians, forced to stay at home, cook and exercise. You too?

Of course! I’m alone, I cook for myself, but no elaborate dishes. Steam cooking: lightness and natural flavors. And then I also move to keep fit.

But above all, since time is not lacking, I rediscovered an old passion of mine: painting. I no longer even had brushes, I ordered colors and canvases on Amazon. Now I can start again.


Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31, Museum of Modern Art. Photo Courtesy: Eva Blue

– What kind of painting do you prefer?

The abstraction. I really like Jackson Pollock, I went to see his works at New York’s MoMA, I also really like Kandinsky. I also do some portraits, but it is abstract painting that fascinates me in this period. Before, I preferred surrealism: Dalì, Bacon.

But in art we change: those who paint and those who look.

– In this black month there was also an earthquake in Zagreb, your city …

My house has been damaged, they told me. I couldn’t see for myself. I notified the insurance. I will go there as soon as possible, I hope after Easter.

– What do you think of the one-year shift of the Olympic Games?

I expected it. I read sports newspapers, I see that there are sports, like football, that want to start again. Those who govern spoke of a Phase Two, in which you will have to live with the virus, but it is difficult to think today about how. Ours is not a sport in which one is in one lane, the other in another. We must all be very careful.

– If the conditions were right in a few months, would you like to complete the season in summer?

My playing career started like this when water polo was a summer sport. It would be the most beautiful thing. But we have to wait for the institutions, which base their decisions on expert opinion, to tell us what to do and when we can do it safely. And the economic situation of the companies will have to be checked, many of which may be in difficulty after this period.

– Water polo players, especially those of international caliber who play in the big events in the summer, never leave too long. What will it be like to resume after months without swimming and without games?

We do not know. The game will also be affected: those who train to have a certain type of intensity must have the necessary athletic resources. My athletes do the best they can: they work dry, followed daily by the trainer Willians Morales, often seeing and calibrating the exercises via Skype.

– Can you take stock of the part of the season played?

This year we have chosen a different schedule, not to do as last year, very well during the year but not well enough in the decisive moment. But the last defeat in the Cup with the OSC Budapest [ 12-9] also burned us psychologically. We couldn’t wait to face Ferencvaros to redeem ourselves.

But all we can do is wait.

Reprinted with permission of the author and Il Secolo XIX

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