Italian Short Track Speed Skating legend Arianna Fontana is targeting her fifth Olympic Winter Games at Beijing 2022. Pondering what her 15-year-old self would have thought about this heading to her first, Torino 2006, she just laughs and shakes her head. “That girl wouldn’t believe it,” says Fontana. “In my mind, I was always going to retire after Sochi 2014 – but here I am.”
Arianna Fontana (ITA) competes at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games ©AFP
Now 31, Fontana is preparing for her 16th season in the sport. While she is working as hard as ever, the way she approaches training has had to evolve. “Skating is the easy part – it’s everything else that hurts my body,” she says. “After Sochi I realized I needed more time off after the season ends.
“I took half a season off after Sochi. I needed to get away mentally and physically, to do something that’s nothing to do with skating. It was good for me. And after a season now, in March, I have a holiday, go to the United States and enjoy some warm weather. This is going to be a long, tense, stressful season, so I needed some time off, too. But when I get back, I go ‘full mode’.”
By April and May, Fontana is back training hard. “I move up from easy jogs, bike rides, and gym without weights, just finding the right positions, up to two workouts a day,” she says. “It’s all in different training blocks planned by my coach, but we are all training hard by April because it’s an Olympic season and we want to be ready.
“When you start in full mode, it’s really tiring. Yesterday I decided to sleep in the afternoon for 15 minutes, and woke up three hours later. My body just shut down.”
Fontana is no fan of the bike and gym. “I like to skate, and I love inline skating as cross-training,” she says. “I like it a little more now, but I used to absolutely hate the bike. I couldn’t have been a good cyclist. My old coach would put us on four-hour rides and I don’t need that. My limit mentally and physically is two hours.
“I don’t like the gym either, it is long, but it’s important, I’ve just got to do it. I quite like running, and mainly being outside, because we’re always inside at the rink.”
Gym exercises involve – unsurprisingly – a lot of leg work, but also upper-body workouts. “There is still a lot of contact in Short Track and, for your start, the upper body is important, too. We also do a lot of core work, which helps with stability.”
Nutrition becomes increasingly important as the season approaches, says Fontana. “At the moment, I can still eat what I want but as the competitions come, we get more serious, cutting out sugar, sweets, cheese, all those things that aren’t good for you. I’m getting better with vegetables – I’ve never been a big fan – and for a treat, my favorite thing is a cheese dish called pizzoccheri.”
Fontana hits the ice again in May – and is somehow still keeping training interesting. “My coach is always very good finding new ways of training for me, to make it more challenging,” she says. “When I get comfortable with one exercise, he makes it harder.”
Arianna Fontana (ITA) wins her eighth Olympic medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games ©Getty Images
With eight Olympic medals to her name already, more than any other female Short Track Speed Skater, Fontana is laser-focused on Beijing 2022. Win or lose, nobody will have worked harder than her to get to the start line.
Arianna Fontana features in episode 6 of the Ice Skating Podcast, you can listen to the episode here.
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