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Italy elated, and confounded, by surprise success

China Daily | Updated: 2021-08-13 09:26
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Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy celebrates with his gold medal after sharing the men's high jump title with Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug 1. REUTERS

ROME - Italy enjoyed unprecedented success at the Tokyo Olympics, but consensus on the reasons for the country's record medal haul is proving elusive.

Bagging 10 gold, 10 silver and 20 bronze medals, Italy finished as the top-ranked European Union nation, and seventh in the overall standings at the Games, which concluded last Sunday.

Giovanni Malago, president of the Italian Olympic Committee, credited smart investment and organization as keys to the medal rush.

"Over the last several years, when we make a commitment we see it through to the end," Malago told Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera. "We have made major efforts to organize sporting events around the country and we have given visibility to companies that have trusted us, and now the credibility of Italian sports is at the highest level."

Another leading newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, speculated that the success comes from a shifting focus on athletes, noting that the country earned no medals at all in its traditional strongholds such as fencing, shooting, or team sports, but instead enjoyed record hauls in swimming and track and field. The newspaper noted that Italy's 40 medals came from 19 different sports.

"This is a tangible sign of how sport in Italy is headed in a new direction," the newspaper said.

The point is well taken: Lamont Marcell Jacobs' victory in the men's 100 meters came from Italy's first-ever appearance in that Olympic final. The men's 4x100m relay gold was also a first for the country. High jumper Gianmarco Tamberi, who shared gold in the event with Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim, became the first Italian to earn a medal in the discipline. Italy also won both the 20-kilometer race walks, with Antonella Palmisano winning the women's title and Massimo Stano taking the men's crown.

According to Giovanna Russo, a professor of sports sociology at the University of Bologna, the Italian team's diversity was a major factor.

"We can look at the gold medal-winning 4x100m relay team that was a microcosm of the team as a whole," Russo told Xinhua, referring to a sprinting lineup that featured US-born 100m champion Jacobs, Fausto Desalu, born in Italy to Nigerian parents, as well as Lorenzo Patta and anchor Filippo Tortu, who are both of 100 percent Italian heritage.

"I look at the success at the Olympics as a symbol of the new, more inclusive Italy," she said.

But Antonio Polito, a columnist for Corriere della Sera, took a different view.

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