The home favourite won two silver medals in the pool at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018, which provided her with bundles of useful experience to take forward on her Olympic journey.
The benefits of having a YOG experience under your belt are myriad for the first-time Olympian.
From living alongside athletes from all corners of the world in an Olympic Village to learning how to manage your time and energy at a multi-discipline event, many athletes have credited the YOG with helping them feel better prepared for the Olympic Games.
The experience of Buenos Aires 2018 then, with its vibrant Olympic atmosphere and full-to-capacity venues, will be invaluable for any young athletes making the step up to Tokyo 2020 – but perhaps no first-timer will be better equipped to deal with nerves, expectation and the media than Argentinian swimmer Delfina Pignatiello.
Hailing from San Isidro in Buenos Aires, the junior world champion was held up as the face of the Games by a number of local media outlets in the months leading up to the event, and by the time the 18-year-old lined up for her first final – the 800m freestyle – there were nearly 2,000 fans screaming her name in the Natatorium.
Pignatiello delivered under the pressure, swimming to a silver medal behind another breakout star of the YOG, Hungary’s Ajna Kesely, and afterwards captured the hearts of audiences in Argentina and around the world when bursting into tears on the podium in memory of her grandmother, who had passed away just a week earlier.
“There were lots of people shouting and cheering for my races,” reflects Pignatiello, who became used to life in the Olympic spotlight and added another silver in the 400m a few days later. “For the first one I was quite nervous and tense, because over the year I had accumulated lots of pressure. But during my second event, I really enjoyed the cheering and the support.”
This crash course on how to cope with crowds, noise and scrutiny could prove to be a major advantage for Pignatiello if she continues her #YOGJourney to Tokyo 2020, but was she expecting the atmosphere provided by her fellow Porteños, which was at times reminiscent of the senior Games?
“We were surprised to see so many people,” she reveals. “We got big audiences for all sports, boys and girls. There were long lines and many people couldn’t watch the sport they came to watch, but they were able to see them on the screens and they were cheering anyway. That was amazing. We had never imagined there would be so many people.”
It is not just on the field of play that the YOG help athletes to get a flavour of the Games, either. After her competitions finished, Pignatiello made sure she took advantage of the various educational activities on offer around the Youth Olympic Village, and went to see as many sports as she could across the four parks, posing for countless pictures with fans along the way and giving a range of interviews to the media.
“It was incredible to have the opportunity to see so many different sports and people from different countries,” she adds. “We were learning, sharing, playing and cheering for each other, and it was amazing.”
Delfina Pignatiello’s #YOGJourney has already been a life-changing one, filled with ups and downs and teaching her valuable lessons in and out of the water. And if she finds herself in contention at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in 2020, she will already have a rich pool of Olympic experiences from which to draw inspiration.