Neri raises the bar
By 1932 Italy’s prized performer was 29-year-old Romeo Neri, who had won the national championships in the parallel bars in 1926 before earning silver in the men's horizontal bar at the Amsterdam Games two years later.
A multi-talented sportsman who had excelled at swimming, running, weightlifting and boxing before focussing on gymnastics, Neri and the rest of the Italian gymnastics team trained for the Los Angeles Games under the tutelage of the legendary Alberto Braglia. Himself a winner of three gold medals for Italy at the 1908 and 1912 Olympics, he was ideally equipped to guide his protégé to victory.
Neri’s achievements in Los Angeles would exceed all expectations. He won a remarkable three gold medals in the individual all-around event (which he won by a sizeable 5.7-point margin), the parallel bars and the team all-around event, as well as finishing fourth in the floor.
Neri’s three golds made him the joint most successful athlete of the 1932 Games alongside American freestyle swimmer Helene Madison.
Despite now being in his thirties, some way beyond the peak years of an average gymnast, Neri set about defending his titles at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. However his hopes were dashed by a torn arm muscle and he was forced to withdraw mid-competition. The injury continued to plague him and at the onset of World War II he made the decision to retire.
However, gymnastics continued its inexorable pull and Neri would later return as Italian national team coach, taking the helm at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki.
A lasting tribute to Neri sits today in his home town of Rimini in the shape of the Romeo Neri Stadium, built in 1934, just two years after his Olympic zenith, as the new home of the Rimini Calcio football team. Neri had earned affections both near and wide, leaving his mark on the sport of gymnastics and joining an elite band of OIympians to win three gold medals.