Two-time Olympic Short Track Speed Skating medalist Martina Valcepina has seen a lot in her career but to train and compete in a COVID-19-safe bubble is a new challenge.
“For sure, the situation this year is very strange,” the 28-year-old Italian said. “It is the first time we are in a bubble during a competition.
“The feelings are very different and you’re almost afraid of getting close to the athletes from the other countries.
“We don’t yet know exactly how to behave with this yet.”
Growing up in Bormio, a ski town in northern Italy near the Swiss border, Valcepina was only six years old when she took up Short Track Speed Skating as her older sister was already into the sport. In the beginning she also trained in swimming and athletics but chose Short Track Speed Skating as there was a good school in Bormio for her to develop in the sport.
Her younger sister, Arianna, was also going to start Short Track Speed Skating racing. The sisters found success together: they were in the same team which won Relay gold at the 2011 ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Courmayeur, Italy – a title which Martina had also won two years earlier.
As a senior, Martina would go on to grab a Relay bronze at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, before giving birth to twin daughters and subsequently taking a break from competition. “I stepped away from the sport for two years as I felt I couldn't be both a mother and an athlete,” she said later.
Valcepina bounced back in style, achieving ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Relay glory in 2017 as part of the gold medal-winning team on home ice in Turin, and following that up with Relay silver at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games. She also won the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating 1500m and 500m individual titles that season too.
Arianna Fontana, Lucia Peretti, Cecilia Maffei and Martina Valcepina (ITA) at the Olympic Games 2018©AFP
Looking forward to next year’s Beijing Games, Valcepina is trying to make the most of the new situation.
“Mentally, this year has been more difficult than other years, also when it comes to the preparations,” she said.
“In the pre-competition training it has been hard to keep a high concentration and to have a goal when there’s no clear goal to keep in your mind.”
Valcepina believes her daughters have helped her with her mental game, taking away her anxieties and giving her a new level of focus. Apart from spending time with her family in her spare time, she also likes to listen to music, read and hike – and eat good food.
“My food culture is very broad,” she said.
“I love food generally and I really love a variety of food. I love trying out all different kinds of food, also non-Italian ones.”