Camilo Cametti, FINA Media Committee Chairman from Italy
Gregorio Paltrinieri, Olympic and world 1500m freestyle champion, has a plan: to become the fastest swimmer of all time in the longest distance in the pool. He is also targeting Olympic gold in the 10km marathon at Tokyo 2020.
Paltrinieri dominated the 1500m on the final day of swimming in Rio on August 13, mastering the field in an unrelenting demonstration of technique and endurance. Connor Jaeger of the US took the silver, nearly five seconds adrift, and Gabriele Detti completed Italian celebrations with a strong finish which took him past Jordan Wilimovsky, the second American, to snare the bronze. As to who would win the race, there was never any doubt: in fact, Paltrinieri, world champion in Kazan in 2015 and favourite, at least by default, took the lead at 150 metres and maintained it to the end.
“Harder than expected”
“I have dreamed of this moment since I was a child, and it’s amazing,” Paltrinieri said after the race.
He had also admitted to having had a lot of pressure on his shoulders in pursuit of the crown he had so strongly wanted.
“Winning the gold medal was harder than I expected,” he said.
Apart from the first 100 and the last 100 metres Paltrinieri proceeded on schedule to beat the world record of 14:31.02 set by China’s Sun Yang in winning the Olympic title in London on August 4, 2012. Sun should have been the Italian’s most formidable rival in Rio, but after swimming a baffling heat he failed to reach the final, ending up 16th overall.
In the last 100 metres of the race Greg wasted his advantage on the world record splits of his rival and finished 3:55 seconds off the record, in 14:34.57, a few tenths outside his own European record set three months earlier at the European Championships in London.
In spite of a slowdown towards the end of the race, Paltrineri won with an impressive edge of 4.91 seconds. The failure to achieve the world record, which up to 1350 metres seemed could not escape him, was the only flaw in the beautiful performance of the charge of coach Stefano Morini.
The Gala “#Meravigliosi” organised by the Italian Swimming Federation on the night of September 27 at the celebrated Piper Club of Rome, allowed us to talk with Gregorio Paltrinieri, brimming with optimism, energy and desire to return to the water after a well-deserved vacation, of his missed world record as well as his future plans.
“Setting the world record will definitely be one of the goals that I will try to achieve in the season just started,” Greg told us, looking forward to the months ahead which will culminate in the World Championships in Budapest next July.
I asked him first how it was that in the last 100 metres the world record, which had seemed already set, had vanished. Was it due to Sun’s uncanny ability to accelerate in the final lengths or his own inability to change pace in the final stage of the race?
He answered: “Both things. The Chinese (swimmer) is capable of an extraordinary change of pace and swims the last laps in crescendo. Although I do not think I can imitate it I will not give up one of my key goals, to achieve the world record.”
And the way leading there? Greg’s disarming answer:
“Simply going along each lap in two tenths less I can make the world record and go under 14:30.”
And the timing?
“No hurry. Possibly this season. Or the next.”
“Good guys, diligent and never complain”
The swimming technique of Paltrinieri, who breathes to the right, is peculiar and difficult to categorise. Ivo Ferretti, coach of Stefano Battistelli, the first Italian male swimmer ever to win an Olympic medal (at Seoul 1988), and for many years the biomechanical expert of the Italian Swimming Federation, has explained to us the technique of the Italian middle-distance champion:
“The propulsive action of Paltrinieri is ‘hip-driven’. This means that the swimmer’s action is guided by the movement of the hips, rather than from that of the hand (‘hand-driven’) or shoulders (‘shoulder-driven’). In other words, the movement starts from the hips, prompted by the action of the large muscles of the trunk. This choice derives from the absence of large muscle groups in the arms and legs in Gregorio’s body, which leads him to harness the buoyancy using the trunk. His stroke might seem not so much efficient, or even not so much aesthetic, but his action is actually very efficient. In fact, it develops less force but with greater frequency and it is less energy-consuming. The result is a very light stroke which allows him to maintain a high rate for many laps.”
The gold medal was highly expected by Paltrinieri’s coach and mentor, Stefano Morini, who has always been very confident and always manages to keep calm at any time, even on the eve of the race and during it. About three weeks ahead of the final, on July 19 in Rome, before boarding for Santos, Brazil – where the Italian contingent had a training camp prior to the Olympics – Morini revealed his and Gregorio’s expectations:
“On paper we are the favourites, because we have the world’s fastest time of the year as well as the world title from last year. Maybe the opponents – such as Sun Yang, Mack Horton or the Tunisian Oussama Mellouli, who have been hiding so far – will make their exploits in Rio, but we are ready for everything.”
He added: “We go to Rio to do well, even if at the Olympics the race will be different, because it is done every four years and, therefore, is more important. We also hope to win with a very fast time: if it comes we are happy but what matters at the Games are medals, and this will be our goal.”
After Rio Morini was the happiest man in the world because he had triumphed with one of his two “horses”, Paltrinieri, and prompted the other one, Detti, who happens to be his nephew (son of his sister), to climb twice on the Olympic podium to receive the bronze medal in both the 400m and the 1500m freestyle.
Of them he says: “They are two good guys, diligent and never complain.”
For a coach this is the best: training champions, guys who never flinch, much effort and zero complaints. Paltrinieri and Detti win and do not protest, they joke and play the game, sharing the philosophy of their coach on the heavy work, with training sessions that few in the world can sustain.
At Ostia, a small town near Rome, on the coast, home to the Elite Training Centre of the Italian Swimming Federation (“There are ideal conditions for training,” says Morini), life is tough, but when you reap certain harvests, such as Rio, then it is really worth it.