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Seven-time Olympic cross-country skiing medallist, Manuela Di Centa went on to plant the Olympic flag on the roof of the world in 2003.
Growing up in the Friuli–Venezia Giulia region of Northern Italy, near the Austrian border, Manuela Di Centa had two dreams. The first was to compete at the Olympic Games - she went on to do so no less than five times - and the second was to complete an ascent of the world’s highest mountain. On 23 May 2003, half a century after Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay, she became the first Italian woman to reach the 8,848m summit of Everest. The IOC member duly planted the Olympic flag at the top of the world’s highest peak. After returning to sea level, she donated the equipment from her expedition to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.
At the age of four, Di Centa took her first steps on a pair of red wooden skis made for her by her grandfather. Her talent was quick to shine through and by the age of 17 she was already representing Italy in international cross-country competitions. Her maiden Olympic appearance came at the Sarajevo Winter Games in 1984, and she was in action once more four years later in Calgary, but on each occasion finished without a medal. Her first podium finish came at Albertville 1992, where she was a member of Italian team that took bronze in the 4x5km relay.
From 13 to 24 February 1994, at the Winter Games in Lillehammer, Di Centa was a permanent fixture on the podium, winning medals in each of the five women’s cross-country events. Starting with a victory in the 15km classic, where she finished ahead of Lyubov Yegorova, she went on to take two silvers in the 15km freestyle and 10km pursuit behind her Russian rival. Next up, came a bronze in the 4x5km relay with Bice Vanzetta, Gabriella Paruzzi and Stefania Belmondo, and then she finished as she had started, with a gold in the 30km freestyle. She left Lillehammer with five medals from five events, and two Olympic titles!
Di Centa, who also notched up 22 national titles and seven medals at the World Cross-Country Championships, competed in her final Olympic Games in Nagano (JPN) in 1998, where she won another bronze in the 4x5km relay. After hanging up her skis, she was elected onto the IOC Athletes’ Commission, before going on to become a full IOC member in 1999, serving notably on the Radio and Television Commission, while pursuing a career as a commentator for Italian TV. She also served as Vice-President of the Italian National Olympic Committee. Meanwhile, the Di Centa name continues to ring out at the Winter Olympic Games, thanks to the exploits of her younger brother, Giorgio, who won double gold at Turin 2006.