The 2020 Italian Championships were slated to begin more than a week ago on March 17th. But, as with equivalent Olympic-qualifying meets everywhere, were canceled due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
We now know that the Olympic Games themselves have been pushed to July 2021, giving athletes another year to prepare once they’ve come to terms with how quickly things have changed both in and out of the pool.
Before we turn towards the Olympic future, let’s first take stock of the present by reviewing the biggest storylines we had anticipated coming out of medal-contending nations had their trials taken place as scheduled. Here’s what we were looking forward to in Italy.
Pellegrini’s Olympic Trials Farewell
31-year-old Federica Pellegrini has been a stalwart on the women’s elite racing scene for over 15 years, making her Olympic debut at the 2004 Games in Athens.
The national record holder proved she still has what it takes in the new era of speed, reaping gold in the women’s 200m freestyle event last year at the FINA World Aquatic Championships in Gwangju. In doing so she became the only swimmer to have placed herself on the podium in the same event across eight consecutive editions of the World Championships.
To boot, her winning time of 1:54.22 marked the fastest textile swim of her career after previously having sworn off the event.
With that confidence-boosting performance, as well as her season-best of 1:56.36 from last December under her belt, we were anticipating Pellegrini taking the 200m free Italian title in Riccione with ease.
We were also looking forward to what Pellegrini would throw down in the 100m free, as she was rendered a non-contender in Gwangju with her 22nd placed 54.68 despite having produced a solid 53.72 in April of 2019.
Men’s Breaststroke Battle
20-year-old Martinenghi set the bar high while competing at his nation’s Winter Championships last December, getting under the 59-second threshold for the first time in his young career.
Poggio’s 59.58 time from that same meet represented his first outing ever under a minute, taking over from his 1:00.24 from April of last year.
As for Scozzoli, we would have most likely seen the 31-year-old veteran battling for the 2nd qualifying spot in this event behind Martinenghi to bounce back to an Olympic roster after missing out in 2016.
But Scozzoli has beaten Martinenghi head-to-head at last year’s Italian Championships, touching in 59.52 to Martinenghi’s 59.92, so nothing was guaranteed for the Trials.
Detti vs Paltrinieri
As an indicator of their preparation track, in April of last year, Detti matched his own national record in the 400m free by way of his 3:43.36 title-winning effort at the Italian Championships in Riccione. It was there that Paltrinieri busted out a time of 14:38.34 to come within 4 seconds of what he produced for gold at the last Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
The pair represented the 2nd and 10th fastest 800m freestyle performers of the season heading into the canceled Trials, with Paltrinieri positioned just behind leader Guilherme Costa of Brazil with a time of 7:48.56. Detti’s season-best in the new men’s Olympic event rested at 7:51.93.
We’ll need to wait another year for these two to go for a 1-2 Italy finish on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
Simona Quadarella has been putting up breakout swims since her triple individual gold medal haul at the 2018 European Championships. The now-21-year-old is continuing to move on up the swim food chain, having become the 1500m freestyle world champion last year while also snagging silver in the 800m free.
We were expecting Quadarella to put up some special performances at Italian Trials to demonstrate to the likes of American Katie Ledecky and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus that another freestyle ace is in the Olympic hardware hunt.
Young Gun Show
6 years Quadarella’s younger, Benedetta Pilato wowed the world when she took silver in the women’s 50m breaststroke in Gwangju. She followed that up with gold at the European Short Course Championships as well. Although not an Olympic event, the 50m breast is the gateway race for Pilato to draw upon that speed for her 100m breast.
At the Italian Championships in April of 2019, then-14-year-old Pilato finished a respectable 5th in 1:08.88. By the time all was done and dusted for 2019, however, Pilato approached the 1:08 barrier with a PB of 1:08.21, a time that would have placed 3rd at the aforementioned championships.
With additional time to prepare, we’ll keep an eye on Pilato’s progress in this 100m breast event heading into Tokyo.
For the men, Federico Burdisso introduced himself to the world when he punched a monster 1:54.39 to finish just .24 shy of the 200m butterfly bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships. That performance proved his first sub-1:55 2fly time of 1:54.64 from months earlier wasn’t a fluke and put a pin in the 2fly map for Tokyo for the rising 18-year-old talent.
Thomas Ceccon is another teenager threatening to make the Italian team across several events. The now-19-year-old brought home 5 medals from the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, including a gold in the men’s 50m freestyle as a nod to his versatility.
In Gwangju, Ceccon finished 17th in the 100m back, clocking a time of 54.20.
But the teen bounced back with a real showstopper came in his opening leg of Italy’s medley relay at the World Junior Championships. There in Kazan, Ceccon scorched a lifetime best of 53.37 to come within .03 of the national record. He is the 2nd fastest Italian all-time in the event.