“Fifty Years Ago I Swim and Changed My Life”

Black and white photo: On August 30, 1972, a 17-year-old from Padua became the first Italian athlete to win an Olympic medal in swimming, silver in the 400 meters freestyle. Her name is Novella Calligaris, she is not yet old and has written a page of history. Today, 50 years later, he is on holiday in Sardinia with his family in Carloford.

Fifty years ago: a woman who weighed less than 50 kg still could not vote for the Munich Olympics.
“Have a pioneer of Mexico since 1968, a bit much for a 13-year-old girl. I was an obstacle. I was always stealing ping pong balls from basketball players when they were playing, until Massimo Mazzini picked me up off the floor. From his height of two meters and said that if you keep breaking, I will hang you from the chandelier. My goal in Monaco was to reach the final. But Booby Dunnerlein understood he could have done more. I was already under a lot of pressure and I didn’t want to burden myself with too many responsibilities, but the truth is I didn’t panic, I isolated myself, I practiced autogeny and didn’t feel scared, I drowned myself.

That day half a century ago: silver free at 400.
« When I touched the edge of the pool it took me a while to understand how it was going. I looked at the scoreboard several times because I was afraid of finishing fourth.”

And then silver at the Belgrade World Championships, two bronzes and feats, gold in the 800 and a world record: is the August 30, 1972 medal still special?
“It was the beginning of everything. The bronze pup who inspired me to compete in the 400 medley didn’t deter the stress, and then came another bronze in the 800. Monaco not only changed my life, it also changed my life for Italians.” Opened up a whole new path for me. To swim. It made me realize that to be competitive you don’t have to be big and heavy. I’m small and light. There’s a girl in front of you.”

How did your life change?
“All of a sudden I got a name. I became a character not only for sports papers, but for generalists.

He retired in 1974, not even twenty years old: why so soon?
“I have achieved everything that can be asked for in the game. I wanted to measure myself with new challenges. So marketing first and then journalism.

How did you experience the change in tone, from being a sports hero to a narrator?
“I have always tried to privilege the human side of athletes. I see them a lot: actions, looks, masks.

Best newspaper article for a Caligarius novel?
“Commentary of Alfredo Provenzali at the 800m World Final in Belgrade”.

Monaco even flirted with Mark Spitz.
“I met him before Munich when he was training in America. it was beautiful. He made it clear when he said that the real wonder of the Olympics was the Italian girl. We had a meeting at a nightclub, but the attack quickly drove him back to the United States. He sent me a note to explain the situation. They also took me home immediately.

The Munich massacre, with the deaths of eleven Israeli athletes, marked the end of an era of innocence for the sport.
“Innocence was already lost in Mexico City with the massacre of students at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The Munich Olympics brought horror to the people.

71 gold, 7 silver and 4 bronze in Italy, 4 gold, 4 silver and 7 bronze internationally: where do you keep all these medals?
“They’re scattered among drawers. Some have been stolen and I’ve lost them. But they’re all inside me.”

Australian Shane Gould was the swimming queen of Monaco in 1972 with three golds, one silver and one bronze. And you, an early retirement: did you meet after those games?
“Shane disappeared from circulation, the victim of an abusive marriage. Her husband belonged to a cult and kept her locked up in a secluded place. Years later, when I went to Australia, I found it thanks to the Italian consulate. Meeting. She was present with family. I met her. When he asked me to come closer for a picture, her husband scolded me: Why didn’t you ask for my permission? In Sydney 2000, he got rid of that nightmare.

How decisive was Babby Tennerley who died in June?
“Bubi took Italian swimming to the highest level. He was a sports philosopher. He did not train with a stopwatch in hand, but he understood the importance of volunteer work. He created a technical school, which is the current buoy».

Third in medal tally with East Germany at Munich Olympics: Were there suspicions already on the doping front?
“You only have to watch the East Germans to realize that something is wrong. I have always defended them: They were victims of state manipulation. They paid for that madness in diseases, deformed children, premature death. I I am always against the vision. Returning the medal will be the biggest injustice to these women.”

What are your feelings when you enter the water today?
“I feel like I’m in heaven. I find my natural habitat, especially the ocean, without the black bars of a swimming pool.

"Fifty Years Ago I Swim and Changed My Life"


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