The winner of four Olympic relay medals, Gabriella Paruzzi spent more than ten years as a faithful member of Italy’s cross-country ski team before winning her first major individual title, the 30km classic event at Salt Lake City 2002.
Born to ski
Gabriella Paruzzi was born in Tarvisio, in the mountains of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, on the Italian border with Austria and Slovenia, a region that has produced many of Italy’s winter sports champions. Reflecting on her first steps in skiing, Paruzzi said in 2006: “I started skiing at the age of six. There was snow outside my front door for months on end and it was my favourite playground. I started competing when I joined the Monte Lussari Sports Club. Cross-country skiing is everything to me and I can’t imagine what it feels like to go through a whole winter without putting on my skis or racing.” After making her FIS World Cup debut aged 21 in a 5km classic event at Val di Fiemme on 12 February 1991, she served a long apprenticeship in the national team before finally tasting international success in individual races.
Ideal team player
At the 1992 Winter Olympic Games at Albertville, Paruzzi teamed up with Bice Vanzetta, Stefania Belmondo and Manuela Di Centa to win bronze in the 4x5km relay behind the Unified Team (made up of the Soviet Union’s former republics) and Norway. The very same quartet finished behind Russia and Norway again at Lillehammer 1994, with that one-two-three being repeated once more at Nagano 1998, when Karin Moroder took the place of Vanzetta in the Italy line-up. Paruzzi competed in several individual events at all three editions of the Games without making much of an impact; instead she earned a reputation as the ideal team player, highly regarded by her colleagues for her dependability and commitment.
Success in Salt Lake City
A three-time Olympic medallist in relay events, Paruzzi finally claimed the first individual World Cup podium finish of her career when she finished second in a 10km pursuit at Soldier Hollow, Utah, on 10 January 2001, a dress rehearsal for the following year’s Winter Games in Salt Lake City. “That was the day when everything changed for me,” she later said. “It gave me confidence and I could see that glory wasn’t just reserved for a chosen few but could be achieved by ordinary mortals like me.” Soldier Hollow also provided the setting for the crowning moment of her career a little over a year later, on 24 February 2002, when she put in a tremendous mid-race burst to take Olympic gold in the 30km classic event, clocking a time of 1:30:57.1 to finish just ahead of her Italian team-mate Stefania Belmondo.
Paruzzi added the FIS Women’s Cross-Country World Cup crown in 2003/04, a season in which she won four races. She ended her competitive career with another Olympic podium finish at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, teaming up with Arianna Follis, Antonetta Confortola and Sabina Valbusa to claim bronze in the 4x5km relay. After retiring she opened an inn at the top of one of the ski lifts on Monte Lussari, and joined the federal council of the Italian Winter Sports Federation (FISI) as an athletes’ representative.