The role of sport is becoming increasingly more important in our lives. It’s not by chance that it is one of the main topics of conversation (and discussion, sometimes) among friends, family members and acquaintances! Here in Italy, the most popular sport is probably calcio (football), but Italians are rather good at other sports too. If you don’t believe me, read this article in which I talk about eight of the best and most loved Italian athletes of the last years…I promise you will change your mind!
8 WORLD-RENOWNED ITALIAN ATHLETES
In this article we will be talking about out-and-out “mostri sacri” (legends), athletes or former athletes whose ages range between under-30 and over-40. For each one of them, I will tell you the sport that they’re famous for and some fun facts, like their mottos and nicknames. I will also mention books about their lives – in case you’re interested to buy them, I will leave our Amazon affiliate links.
1. FEDERICA PELLEGRINI (1988)
Federica Pellegrini is, without a doubt, the greatest Italian swimmer of all time – her nickname is not “La Divina” (“the Divine”) for no reason! She has taken part of the Olympics five times and, in 2021, she has made history when she became the first female athlete to qualify for five consecutive Olympic finals in the same specialty (200m freestyle).
She’s very generous and very active in the social sphere, but she has also a fashion side: in 2021, after her farewell to swimming, she has revealed that she would like to create her own fashion line.
If you are a swimming enthusiast and you want to know more about her, you can read one of the several books that report her biography, such as “La campionessa. Vita da record” (“The champion. A record life”) , or “Vincere, vivere, sorprendere: lo stile libero di una leggenda italiana” (“Win, live, surprise: an Italian legend’s freestyle”) .
2. MATTEO BERRETTINI (1996)
You have probably have already heard about Matteo Berrettini, who is considered on of the strongest Italian tennis players ever. Many might recognize him because he has become the first Italian man to reach the singles semifinals at Australian Open and the quarterfinals at all four majors of the Grand Slam, i.e., “the achievement of winning all four major championships in one discipline in the same calendar year”. He has also reached the quarterfinals at the US Open.
Not bad for a 26-year-old young man! He is even known as “The Hammer” in the tennis world, because of his strong serve and forehand.
3. CAROLINA KOSTNER (1987)
Carolina Kostner is an ice figure skater. Her statistics are amazing and talk for themselves: she is a a nine-time Italian national Champion, a five-time European Champion, and a four-time World Champion; she has also the 2014 Winter Olympic bronze medalist.
She is extremely professional and has many years of experience behind her: she started ice skating at the tender age of 4! Her sport is really beautiful and elegant, and I suggest you watch some of her performances if you haven’t already.
“La vita è come il pattinaggio: se cadi, devi avere la forza di rialzarti”. (“Life is like figure skating: if you fall down, you have to have the strength to get up.”)
Carolina’s story is very interesting and there’s a book that recounts a particular moment of her life that really struck me. If you are a fan of the genre, or you are just curious to know more about her private life, I recommend this book!
4. VALENTINO ROSSI (1979)
In Italy, if you say MotoGP (Grand Prix motorcycle racing), you probably think of him: Valentino Rossi. He is one of the most titled motorcycle racers, with nine Grand Prix World Championships to his name. He is the proud record holder of, among others, the record for being the first Italian to win the World Championship in three different categories (125, 250 e 500). He is very nice and playful, and has the innate ability of knowing how to captivate the audience.
His nickname is “The Doctor” and it was given to him by his close friends. In Italy, you are called “dottore” when you are very good at doing something…and he was really, really good on the motorcycle. I talk in the past tense because in 2021 he has retired from MotoGP, after 25 years of career. His last words? “Sono triste, ma mi sono divertito” (“I’m sad but I had fun”)… we believe you, Valentino! You can find plenty of additional information in his biography below.
5. FRANCESCO TOTTI (1976)
History question: how many Kings of Rome were there? Just so you know, ‘Seven’ is the wrong answer…! The Kings of Rome are eight, because Francesco Totti is the eight! I’m not kidding: he is referred to as “The Eight King of Rome” and I think this says a lot about his relationship with his native city, the beautiful Italian capital, which loves him a lot.
He is an incredible footballer, and he has spent his entire career at Roma, the football team of the capital, whose logo is easily recognizable by its distinctive colors: carmine red and golden yellow. He has always been loyal to his team, until his retirement in 2017.
His shirt number is 10, which is just as unforgettable as the tears of Italian supporters – Rome supporters, but not exclusively. After all, he is an Italian football icon and has even won the 2006 FIFA World Cup with the Italian national team.
Fun fact: he has a tattoo of a gladiator on his right arm, yet another proof of his immense love for the Città Eterna (“eternal city”).
You will find more fun facts about him in his biography, and in the documentary dedicated to him.
6. DANILO GALLINARI (1988)
Our LearnAmici from the United States already know this name, because Danilo Gallinari is the only Italian professional basketball player for the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the most paid Italian athlete in the world – his height (2.08 meters, or 6 ft 10 in) has earned him a salary of about 22 million US dollars!
His fans call him “il Gallo” (“the rooster”), most likely an abbreviation of his last name. Needless to say, he has been living in the USA for a long time, but this doesn’t stop him from being a huge fan of Italian football.
In 2010, his autobiographical book came out and it’s titled “Da zero a otto” (” from zero to eight”) not only because his jersey number is 8, but also because he considers it his lucky number: he was born on 8 August 1988…that is 8/8/88!
7. VINCENZO NIBALI (1984)
Are you a cycling aficionado? Well, you must know his name then: at the moment, Vincenzo Nibali is one of the best Italian professional cyclists. He has collected many victories, both nationals and internationals – for instance, he has won the 2010 Vuelta a España, the 2014 Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia (twice, in 2013 and in 2016).
An incredible fun fact about him is that, because he didn’t do well in school as a kid, his dad destroyed his bike as a punishment…good thing that he eventually bought him another one!
If you are a cycling enthusiast and you want to know more about Vincenzo, there are many books that recount his life and his story, such as the ones you can find down below.
8. BEBE VIO (1997)
Bebe Vio is a Paralympic champion: she’s a two-times Paralympic gold metal (won at the Games of Rio de Janeiro in 2016), and a one-time gold medal at the Games in Tokyo (2021).
She is not just a terrific athlete, but also an example of life: she contracted meningitis at the age of 11, due to which both her legs at the knee and both her forearms were amputated. Despite everything, and thanks to special prosthetics, she’s been able to pursue her greatest passion: fioretto (“fencing”).
Nowadays, she is an inspiration to all, and a symbol of the promotion of social integration trough sport.
Her motto is: “Se sembra impossibile, allora si può fare!” (“if it seems impossible, it means that you can do it!”). This is such an important phrase to her, that it’s also the title of her book. I have read it and I recommend you do too because it conveys an incredible message!
This article ends here… I hope you liked it and let me know in the comments if you already knew any of these athletes, and if you have already read any of their biographies! I don’t know about you, but I think that reading stories of such determined people is really inspiring! So, if you haven’t already, go read the article about Italian women who made history, in which you will find the incredible stories of 10 Italian women born between the XI and the XX century.