Entering her fifth Olympic Games, veteran racer Arianna Fontana leads Italy’s bid for Short Track medals at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
Arianna Fontana (ITA) competing at the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track in Debrecen, Hungary ©International Skating Union (ISU)
Fontana can write herself into the skating record books in China: she currently has eight Olympic medals in her collection – the most of any female Short Track Speed Skater, and the joint most overall. Grab that ninth, and she can become her sport’s overall leading Olympic medal winner.
It is strong motivation for the 31-year-old legend, and the odds on her doing it look favorable. In her favorite distance, the 500m, she was on the podium at all four ISU World Cup races this season, including winning gold in Nagoya (JPN).
Natalia Maliszewska (POL), Arianna Fontana (ITA) and Fan Kexin (CHN) at the medal ceremony at the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track in Nagoya, Japan ©International Skating Union (ISU)
“I’m getting older but I’m getting faster and it’s exciting for me to still be here and compete at a high level,” she said. “I’m happy with the way it’s been going, I’m really happy with the training that I did, with the competitions that I did. Always being in the finals, always fighting against the best skaters, it’s good, it was good practice for the Olympics.”
Fontana became the youngest Italian to win an Olympic Winter Games medal, aged 15 at Torino 2006 as part of the Relay team, and became the first Italian woman to win an individual Short Track medal, at Vancouver 2010. She won her first Olympic gold at PyeongChang 2018, taking the title in the 500m.
The Budapest resident is highly prepared for her sport’s unpredictability. “The Olympics are always… something always happens,” she said. “We’ll see once we get there what’s going to happen.”
Elsewhere in the Italy squad, Martina Valcepina has had a quiet season by her usual standards but remains a threat in the 500m. Italy’s female Relay team, meanwhile, have the potential to make it on to the podium on their day but will have their work cut out to defeat the powerful Korea, Netherlands, Canada and China squads.
Martina Valcepina (ITA) competing at the 2021 ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Gdansk, Poland ©International Skating Union (ISU)
Italy’s men have less pedigree than their women, but a veteran and a youngster have both shown their abilities over the past year.
Pietro Sighel was superb at the 2020/21 European Championships, finishing second overall and taking silver in the 500m. The 22-year-old also claimed an ISU World Cup bronze medal this season, in the 1000m in Dordrecht (NED).
John-Henry Krueger (HUN), Shaoang Liu (HUN) and Pietro Sighel (ITA) at the Men's 1000m medal ceremony during the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track in Dordrecht, Netherlands ©International Skating Union (ISU)
On his day, his raw speed puts him right in the mix and, with the men’s field wide open and lacking clear favorites across the distances. His versatility could allow Sighel to sneak into medal contention in Beijing.
At the other end of the age spectrum, canny veteran Yuri Confortola, 35, claimed his first ISU World Cup individual gold medal this season. Confortola won the 1500m in Nagoya, getting away with audaciously lapping the field early in the race. His previous best performances had been registered more than a decade earlier: ISU World Cup silver medals over the same distance in Dresden (GER) in 2008/09, and in the 1000m in Heerenveen (NED) two years before that.
Yuri Confortola (ITA) competing at the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track in Nagoya, Japan ©International Skating Union (ISU)
It proved that good things come to those that wait, and that anything can happen in this sport.
For Fontana and her teammates – who will also go in the 2000m Mixed Relay – the competition is harder than ever, however. “You can’t take it easy,” Fontana said. “From the first race you need to get on the ice and you know that you need to work. It’s not that you get on the ice and you get to just chill. But I like it better this way. It’s never lazy, it’s always exciting.”