Valentina Vezzali looks forward to London 2012
"I first grasped the true nature of the Olympic Games when I was 22 years old, competing in Atlanta in 1996. At the Games, all sports are on a par and all medals have the same status – whether they are won by a football team or a table tennis player. For me, since childhood, competing in the Olympic Games has always been the highest possible achievement – the thing you train for every day, for years. And it is the only event at which all the athletes live together, in the Olympic Village, and where a medal winner might sit down to breakfast with the person they beat the day before. You meet people of different cultures, nationalities and languages, who tell you about sports you may never even have heard of, sharing their stories and excitement with you. It is special. From the Opening Ceremony onwards, there is a party atmosphere and the Italian team can always be relied upon to make an entertaining entrance.
Atlanta 1996 was my first Games, and what I remember about the Olympic Village was the sense of living in a wonderland. I spent most of my time with Giuseppina Tufano, a basketball player who is 2.03m tall, while I’m a little on the small side. Everyone teased us, but we went around all day in search of celebrities.
Copyright: Getty/Clive Rose
It was a difficult time for the team: our team-mate Diana Bianchedi snapped her Achilles tendon in one competition, but we managed to still win the gold and she celebrated with us. I still get goose bumps when I think of our farewell hug. Sydney 2000 was a time of growing maturity. I was so tense before the competition that I woke up before dawn and told my coach, Giulio Tomassini, that I was afraid. He replied with words I remember to this day: “You’ve passed all your exams with distinction, now take your degree.” And the day after the event there was time to visit Sydney, which for me, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The Athens Games in 2004 were the ones in which my family was most involved. My mother and sisters were there, as was my husband Mimmo, who was seeing me at the Olympic Games for the first time. I was victorious again, beating my team-mate and training partner Giovanna Trillini, and that was when Mimmo and I thought it was time to start a family.
My memories of Beijing 2008 are of the most beautiful Olympic Village. After two gold medals, people had very high expectations of me. I won my third Olympic title and celebrated with a trip to Tiananmen Square. When people saw my gold medal, they went wild and gathered around me. It was a real party! I returned home with the conviction that this was not the last word: I shall wrap it all up in London in 2012."
Interview: Marisa Poli for the Olympic Review