Showing posts with label Swimming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Swimming. Show all posts

28 January 2022

Giorgio Lamberti - swimming champion

The first Italian male swimmer to win a World championship gold

Giorgio Lamberti celebrates his gold medal victory
Giorgio Lamberti celebrates
his gold medal victory
Swimming world champion Giorgio Lamberti was born on this day in 1969 in Brescia in Lombardy.

Lamberti won 33 gold medals in the Italian swimming championships, six at the Mediterranean Games and three in the European championships, but the pinnacle of his career came in Perth in 1991, when he became the first Italian male to win a gold at the World championships.

In the 200m freestyle event, which was his speciality, he beat Germany’s Steffen Zesner by just under a second in a time of 1min 47.27 sec.

His success came almost two decades after Novella Calligaris had become the first Italian woman to win a World championship gold when she took the 800m freestyle title.

Lamberti was already a force in 200m freestyle, having two years earlier set a world record for the event of 1:46.69 in winning gold at the European championships in Bonn in 1989.

The record was to stand for 10 years, the longest stretch in the history of the 200m freestyle, until Australia’s Grant Hackett swam 1:46:67 in Brisbane.

Novella Calligaris was the first Italian to win a world title
Novella Calligaris was the first
Italian to win a world title
Lamberti took up swimming as a six-year-old boy after his parents were advised by a doctor concerned about his slight physique that he might benefit from a sport that would help build some muscle mass.

He showed natural ability in the pool and by his teenage years had developed much more strength. As a 16-year-old he joined the Leonessa Nuoto club in Brescia, where he was coached by Pietro Santi, who entered him for the European youth championships, where he won two medals.

After Santi left, Lamberti was taken under the wing of a new coach, Alberto Castagnetti, who would be his mentor for the rest of his career. At 17, in 1986, he won the first of his Italian championships, reaching the B final of the 200m freestyle of the World championships of the same year. 

In 1988 it became clear that Lamberti was becoming a force to be reckoned with, setting world record times in both the 200m and 400m short course freestyle events, and the following year enjoyed triple gold medal success at the European championships in Bonn.

In addition to his world record performance in the 200m free, he also won gold in the 100m free and the four by 200m freestyle relay.

Lamberti's eldest son, Michele, is also a world champion
Lamberti's eldest son, Michele,
is also a world champion
The disappointment in Lamberti’s career was that he failed to get on the podium at either of the Olympics in which he participated, in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, or in 1992 in Barcelona, where fifth place in the 4 x 200m freestyle final was his best result.

He retired from competition in 1993 at the age of just 24, having struggled with shoulder problems. In 1998, he married Tanya Vannini, a teammate in the Italy national swimming team. They have three children, all of whom have followed them into the pool.

The eldest, 23-year-old Michele, is already a world champion, having won the 50m short course backstroke title in Abu Dhabi in December, and younger brother Matteo, who is based in Livorno and like his father is a freestyler, is seeking to emulate him. Their sister, Noemi, is still at high school but is also a regular swimmer.

Lamberti insists that he and his wife have not pushed them to swim competitively, despite their own pedigree, introducing them to the water at an early age only to help them stay safe in the sea on holiday.

Now 52 and a former city councillor in Brescia, Lamberti champions swimming in a different way, as a vocal advocate for the sport as a way for Italians of all ages to improve their health and wellbeing.

Despite suffering a serious bout of Covid-19 in March 2021, which put him in hospital and required many months of rehabilitation, he regularly campaigned for public swimming pools to be allowed to open with safety measures in place during Italy’s lockdown, rather than be closed completely, worried that the inability to access sports facilities would reverse the healthy habits adopted by many Italians and have consequences for the nation’s physical health long after the pandemic had passed.

Inducted to the Hall of Fame of international swimming in 2004, the second Italian swimmer to be afforded that honour after Novella Calligaris, Lamberti is a figure held in high esteem throughout the swimming world in Italy. For example, even though he is from Lombardy, swimmers for Team Veneto in regional competition wear a cap badge said to depict Lamberti in celebratory pose at the end of his world title-winning race.

The elegant Piazza della Loggia in Brescia, where the clock tower shows Venetian influence
The elegant Piazza della Loggia in Brescia, where
the clock tower shows Venetian influence

Travel tip:

Brescia, where Giorgio Lamberti was born, tends not to attract many tourists compared with nearby Bergamo or Verona, yet is a city of artistic and architectural importance. Brescia became a Roman colony before the birth of Christ and you can see remains from the forum, theatre and a temple. The town came under the protection of Venice in the 15th century and there is a Venetian influence in the architecture of the Piazza della Loggia, an elegant square, which has a clock tower similar to the one in Saint Mark’s square. Next to the 17th century Duomo is an older cathedral, the unusually shaped Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda.  The Santa Giulia Museo della Città, a museum that covers more than 3,000 years of Brescia’s history, is housed within the Benedictine Nunnery of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia in Via Musei.

A canal in Livorno's historic Venetian quarter, one of the attractions of the Tuscan city
A canal in Livorno's historic Venetian quarter,
one of the attractions of the Tuscan city
Travel tip:

The port of Livorno, where Lamberti’s son, Matteo, trains, is the second largest city in Tuscany after Florence, with a population of almost 160,000. Although it is an important commercial port with much related industry, it has many attractions, including an elegant sea front – the Terrazza Mascagni - and the historic Venetian quarter, which has its own network of  canals, and a tradition of serving excellent seafood.  The Terrazza Mascagni is named after the composer Pietro Mascagni, famous for the opera Cavalleria rusticana, who was born in Livorno.

Also on this day:

1453: The birth of Simonetta Vespucci, the artist’s model thought to have been the inspiration for the Botticelli masterpiece, The Birth of Venus

1608: The birth of physiologist Giovanni Alfonso Borelli

1813: The birth of scientist Paolo Gorini

1978: The birth of record-breaking goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon


31 October 2017

Bud Spencer – swimmer-turned-actor

Competed at two Olympics before turning to screen career

Bud Spencer (right) with Terence Hill in the 1974 comedy Watch Out, We're Mad!
Bud Spencer (right) with Terence Hill in the 1974
comedy Watch Out, We're Mad!
The actor known as Bud Spencer was born Carlo Pedersoli on this day in 1929 in Naples.

He was best known for the series of so-called Spaghetti Westerns and comedies he made with another Italian-born actor, Terence Hill.

Hill was from Venice and his real name was Mario Girotti.  They began their partnership in 1967 in a Spaghetti Western directed by Giuseppe Colizzi called God Forgives…I Don’t! and were asked to change their names so that they would sound more American.

Pedersoli came up with Bud Spencer because his movie idol was Spencer Tracy and his favourite American beer was Budweiser.   The two would go on to make 18 movies together, with westerns such as Ace High (1968) and They Call Me Trinity (1970) winning them box office success.

As Carlo Pedersoli, he had already achieved a measure of fame as a swimmer, the first Italian to swim the 100m freestyle in less than one minute.  He represented Italy at the Olympics in Helsinki in 1952 and Melbourne four years later, on each occasion reaching the semi-final in the 100m freestyle.

He also played professional water polo, winning an Italian championship with SS Lazio and a gold medal at the 1955 Mediterranean Games in Barcelona.

Bud Spencer in 2015
Bud Spencer in 2015
In a rich and varied life, Pedersoli also learned how to fly jets and helicopters, ran his own airline and, at the personal invitation of Silvio Berlusconi, stood as a Forza Italia candidate in regional elections in Lazio in 2005, although he was not elected.

Born in the Santa Lucia area of Naples, Pedersoli showed an aptitude for swimming from an early age.  His family moved to Rome when he was 10 and he began to swim competitively while attending high school.  He attended Rome’s Sapienza University from the age of 17, studying chemistry, but was forced to give up his course when his family moved again, this time to South America.

For two years, he worked at the Italian consulate in Recife, Brazil, and became fluent in Portuguse.

Back in Rome, he made his debut in international swimming competition in 1949 and, after his 59.5 sec 100m freestyle in 1950 he swam for Italy in the European championships in Vienna.  After a silver medal at the 1951 Mediterranean Games in Alexandria (Egypt), he was called up for the Italian Olympic squad.

At the same time, Pedersoli was studying law and taking his first tentative steps in the movie business, landing a part as a Praetorian Guard in in the 1951 MGM epic Quo Vadis, filmed in Italy.

There was no overnight rise to fame.  He married Maria Amato, daughter of the Italian film producer Giuseppe Amato, in 1961, but his career did not take off until that Spaghetti Western offer in 1967.  A distinctive figure, heavily built and with a thick black beard, he quickly became a favourite, particularly for the way his character would end on-screen fights by slamming his fist down on the head of his opponent.

Before he found fame as Bud Spencer the movie star, Carlo Pedersoli was a Olympic swimmer
Before he found fame as Bud Spencer the movie star,
Carlo Pedersoli was a Olympic swimmer
He decided he would learn to fly after appearing with Terence Hill in a 1973 adventure comedy called All The Way Boys, in which Colizzi took his two Spaghetti Western characters and placed them in a modern context, as bush pilots in South America, where they made money by faking aircraft crashes for insurance scams.

By 1984, with a licence to fly jets and helicopters, Spencer had set up Mistral Air, an air-mail handler which also flew Catholic pilgrims to sacred religious sites.  He later sold the airline to Poste Italiane, who also operate commercial passenger flights.

Spencer had a number of starring roles on television in the 1990s and continued to make films until well into his 70s.  He died in Rome in 2016, aged 86.  His movies with Terence Hill are still regularly shown on television and he retains an enthusiastic following in several countries around Europe, notably Germany and Hungary.

Via Santa Lucia leads from the Royal Palace to the waterfront at Castel dell'Ovo
Via Santa Lucia leads from the Royal Palace
to the waterfront at Castel dell'Ovo
Travel tip:

Santa Lucia is the area of central Naples that can be found between the Royal Palace and Borgo Marinari, the small island on which stands Castel dell’Ovo.  The first settlement there was established by the Greeks and the Roman general Lucullus was so taken with the views across the bay that he built a sumptuous fortified villa, Castellum Lucullanum, that would eventually become the home in exile of the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus.  Nowadays, the area is a mix of grand hotels, sailing clubs and many fine fish restaurants.

Castel dell'Ovo with the yachts and harbourside restaurants of Borgo Marinari in the foreground
Castel dell'Ovo with the yachts and harbourside restaurants
of Borgo Marinari in the foreground
Travel tip:

Castel dell’Ovo was built on the site of the Castellum Lucullanum, which was demolished in the 9th century. The castle was built by the Normans in the 12th century and remains the oldest fortified structure in Naples.  It took its name from a legend about the Roman poet Virgil, who in medieval times was thought to have mystical powers.  The legend had it that Virgil placed a magical egg – ouvo in Italian – in the foundations, and that had the egg ever broken then the castle would be destroyed that Naples would suffer a series of catastrophes.