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Viola Valli – from swim4lifemagazine.it

article by Giovanni Manenti

As in athletics there are two specialties (walking and marathon) that are practiced “on the road – or outside the tracks and platforms present within the sports facilities –, also the swimming adapts in a certain sense, including specialties that go beyond its narrow scope into its program consisting of swimming pools and, of course, can only be practiced in the open sea.

Hence, borrowing from English, the category “Open Waterwhich makes its first international appearance at the European specialty championships which were held in 1989 in Stari Grad, Croatia, and were then repeated in 1991 and 1993, before the 1995 competitions be included in the program of the European Swimming Championships in Vienna.

Similarly, also i The World Swimming Championships opened up to this innovation, even though in the first two editions of Perth 1991 and Rome 1994 only the grueling 25 kilometer race was heldwhile in 1998 the race over the short distance of 5 kilometers also joined Perth.

As regards the world championship – which from the 2001 edition onwards takes place every two years – here, in even years, specific World Cups are heldOpen Wateran event which lasts only until 2010, and then becomes the main international swimming event.

Today we are dealing with the female sector of the specialty – which has been equated with the male one since its inception, in spite of the right-thinking people of the early 20th century who quibbled about the “fragility of the fairer sex” –, here the first rulers of the open sea who respond to the name of the German Peggy Buchse – capable of winning 5 European titles over 5 and 25 kilometers, as well as graduating 10km world champion in 2001 in Fukuokawhere he is also silver in the half distance – e Dutch Edith van Dijkauthentic “champion” who remained at the top for a decade.

Dutchman who could have won even more – having anyway collected 8 golds, 7 silvers and 4 bronzes in his career between world and continental events – if he hadn’t found on his path (sorry wave…) the protagonist of ours today’s history, namely the blue Viola Valli.

In reality, it was another swimmer from the Bel Paese who preceded Valli on the international podiums, namely the Florentine Valeria Casprini, which he won in a decade of activity at the highest levels the bronze in the 5 kilometers at the European Championships in Vienna 1995, while two years later in Seville he achieved a double silver in the 5 and 25 kilometerscompleting his continental medal collection with bronze over the longest distance in 2000 in Helsinki.

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Nothing to do with anyway four editions of the World Championships Casprini achieved only excellent placings, a fourth and three fifth places in the 5 kilometers and another two fifth places in the 25 kilometers – with the extraordinary palmarès of Varese Viola Valli, who was born in the Lombardy municipality on 15 May 1972 and who dedicated himself to long distance swimming after having obtained poor results in the middle distance in the pool, with the highest results being the bronze in the 400 meters and 800m freestyle at the Mediterranean Games held in 1997 in Bari.

Of much greater value are the medals that will be placed around her neck at the conclusion of the open sea marathons, which see her climb the first time on the podium at the 1999 European Championships which took place in Istanbul, an event which saw her take silver in the 5 kilometer racepreceded by just 1”2 seconds (1.01’56”6 to 1.01’57”8) by Buchse.

The first “breakthrough”, the 28 year old from Lombardy does it on the occasion of the Open Water world championship which takes place in Honolulu between 29 October and 4 November 2000finishing third in the 5 kilometers with a time of 1.02’41”18 in the race won by Buchse, preceding (1.02’36”29 to 1.02’40”42) the American Kalyn Keller, and then meeting surpassed only by van Dijk (5.30’04″07 to 5.30’06″06) over the 25 kilometer distancea Dutchman who had also won the world title in the 10 kilometres.

Realizing that we can compete on an equal footing with the great specialists on the planet, here we go Valli made an assault on the top step of the podium the following season when, appearing at the World Championships in Fukuoka by signing up for the 5 and 25 kilometer races, she “checkmate” her opponents.

First, on 17 July 2001 during the shortest distance race, the Italian held Buchse by over 20″ (1.00’23” to 1.00″49) – which redeems itself by winning the 10 kilometer race – and then, just four days later, inflict almost 4′ of gap (5.56’51” to 6.00’36”) on van Dijk for a double nothing short of historic for Italian swimming.

Although comparisons with swimming pool competitions are unrealistic, let’s remember that until then the Italian women’s team at the World Swimming Championships had collected just one gold and two bronzes with Novella Calligaris in the inaugural edition of Belgrade 1973, which yes only Lorenza Vigarani’s bronze in the 200m backstroke at the 1994 Rome event was addedwhich is why the double affirmation of the 29-year-old from Varese must have seemed a sort of “manna from heaven” for the Italian Federation.

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As always, once the summit has been reached, the difficult thing is to maintain it, for many but not for Valli, who the following year, on the occasion of the double appointment constituted by the European swimming championships at the end of July 2002 in Berlin and the Open Water World Championships scheduled two months later in Sharm el-Sheikhin Egypt, legitimizes his leadership.

In the German capital, the blue cross-country skier won what remains his only continental title, winning the 5 kilometer race in 1.00’25”9 and then recorded one of the very rare counter-performances on the double distance, which saw her finish no better than 11th in 2.06’49”9 in the race won by van Dijk in 2.06’20”3, the Dutchwoman who also repeated herself over the 25 kilometres.

Decided, unlike her rival, to dedicate herself only to the 5 and 10 kilometer trials, Valli takes revenge on van Dijk the following September 23rd in Egypt during the 5 kilometer challenge, which sees her prevail (56’52” to 57″01) with a 9″ marginonly to then be mocked for just 0″03 hundredths (1.56’42″25 to 1.56’42″28) from the German Britta Kamrau on the double distancewith the podium completed by the other German Angela Maurer.

Teutonic Cup which took over from Buchse, also climbing onto the podium over the 25 kilometres, with Maurer preceding her compatriot this time, only to act as “bridesmaids” alla van Dijk which won with a time of 6.11’21”.

By now the scenario is well defined, with the Valli to concentrate on the 5 and 10 kilometers and the Dutchman to prove himself almost unbeatable over the longest distancewith the German couple playing the role of “third wheel“, ready to exploit any uncertainty of the two favorites, which is nothing other than the “script” which is on stage at world swimming championship of mid-July 2003 to Barcelona.

Since it is difficult to think that an athlete, even if she is prepared, can tackle the entire cross-country program – with the calendar foreseeing the 5 kilometers on 13 July, the 10 kilometers on the 16th and the 25 kilometers on the 19th -, here the Italian opts for the 5 and 10 kilometers, the Maurer for the 10 and 25 kilometerswhile, incredible but true, both Kamrau and van Dijk signed up for all three tests.

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The Dutchman probably swims the shortest distance as training for “warm up your muscles” ahead of the most demanding tests, finishing eighth in the process the now 30-year-old Valli confirms the world titles of the previous two years, managing to prevail (57’01”2 to 57’03”9) over the Czech Jana Pechanova, with Kamrau completing the podium with a time of 57’06”40.

Three days later, all four of the best in the world are still in the water, with Maurer enjoyed the advantage of being at her debut in the eventbut nevertheless to prevail, despite an exciting “head to head“, And the Italian, who prevailed (1.59’49”9 to 1.59’51”1) by the narrow margin of 1”2, with this time van Dijk having the honor of completing the podium in 1.59’53”0 Among the other long-distance runners he concludes the fifth.

For completeness of information only, the 25 kilometer race, which Valli watches as a spectator, is won by the Dutch by prediction in 5.35’43”5 with the German pair in second place, with Kamrau preceding Maurer (5.35’46”1 to 5.35’46”5).

Con 5 world championship golds, 2 silvers and a bronze in the four editions of the cross-country world championships held – that is, always going on the podium in all the races held –, Viola Valli deserves a prominent place in the Italian swimming panoramaconvinced that he would certainly continue the activity for another season, if necessary the IOC had included Open Water in the Olympic program for the 2004 Athens Games instead of waiting for the next editionhowever limiting it only to the 10 kilometer test.

And even if in Italy Valli’s results are overshadowed by those of “divinaFrancesca Pellegrinithe International Federation has certainly not forgotten her, given that in 2020 it received the honor of being admitted into the “The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fameafter that at the beginning February 2003 the President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi had given her the title of “Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic”.

And maybe even to honor this assignmentfive months later in Catalonia, Viola Valli gave the country two more gold medals.

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