article by Nicola Pucci
It is 4.20pm on August 29, 1960, and Italian canoeing is about to experience the most exhilarating act in its history at the Games. At least until then.
Aldo Dezi, 21 year old from Gastel Gandolfo, and Francesco La Macchia, 22 year old from Messina from Tonnarella di Furnariwho during their military service in the Navy began to paddle together and were forged by the skill of the Hungarian Kalman Blahó, former coach of the Hungarian national team, who took refuge in Italy after the Soviet invasion in 1958, I’m in the water at Lake Albano for the final of the C2 test (the Canadian two-seater, where you paddle while kneeling) 1000 meters, with the illusion of trying to give Italy a medal that would have double value, not only because it was won in the home Olympics, but also because it would be the first won by two Italian canoeists in the five-circle Arengo. Although there is decidedly fierce competition to face.
Romania, to begin with, which defends not only the title won four years earlier in Melbourne with Alexe Dumitru and Simion Ismailciuc, but also the world championship in Prague, in 1958even if for the Olympic event in Ismailciuc, who should compete only in the C1 1000 meters event in Rome, the reigning champion Leon Rotman is preferred, leaving the seat next to Dumitru vacant, assigned to Igor Lipalit. The USSR also has good credentials, with the pair of Sergei Makarenko and Leonid Geyshtor, as does Hungary, which can count on Imre Farkas, bronze at the European Championships in Ghent in 1957, and Andras Torocalled upon not to make us miss the European champions of Duisburg 1959 Gyula Demeter and Jozsef Hunics.
The 11 crews registered for the Olympic race on 26 August are grouped into two batteries, which will promote the first three directly to the final, diverting the others to the repechage regatta which will qualify three other couples for the decisive act. And if the Soviet C2 signed the best time in the first series, 4’27″29, Dezi and La Macchia proved to be competitive, finishing second in 4’29″24, clearly distancing Dumitru and Lipalit. Farkas and Toro, in turn, are the fastest in the second heat, 4’29″42, just a breath ahead of the French Georges Turlier and Michel Picard, with Austria third and directly qualifying for the final and Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Germany which completes, precisely thanks to the repechage series on 27 August, the lot of nine couples who will compete for the medals, with Canada and the USA, disqualified, then proving to be the only teams out of the Games.
4.20 pm, therefore, on 29 August 1960. At the start all the crews set off with their boats to immediately gain a good position, but the false start given to the Azzurri forced them to repeat and for the first 500 meters Dezi and La Macchia, more cautious this time, lingered at the back. Makarenko and Geyshterwho had already improved the Olympic record of the C2 1000 meters, sThey are firmly in command and in the second half of the race they accelerate again, progressively increasing the margin of advantage which at the finish line, timed in 3″73, earned them the gold medal.
It lights up, behind the Soviets, the battle for second position, with the Italian couple coming from behind, overtaking the canoes in front of them, and managing with the last stroke to maintain a slim margin of 12 cents to get ahead of Hungarywith the reigning champions Romania relegated to the foot of the podium.
And the history of the Olympic canoe, finally, opens a first, wonderful page written with Italian names: those of Aldo Dezi and Francesco La Macchia. Then will come, 32 years later in Barcelona, the “Mr. Rossi“…but that’s really a whole other matter.