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During last month’s 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, the U.S. won gold and Russia silver, but it was Italy, winners of the bronze medal, that captured hearts in Stuttgart and around the world.
The last time the world witnessed a World Championship podium win for Italy was in 1950, when the Italian Women’s Team won the bronze in Basel, Switzerland. The 2019 Italian women’s team consisted of Desiree Carofiglio, Alice D'Amato, Asia D'Amato, Elisa Iorio, and Giorgia Villa.
The road to third place wasn’t exactly paved in bronze. Italy had an anxious, shaky start in team qualifications, especially on balance beam. Despite the Italian gymnasts’ nerves, they placed eighth, qualifying for the team finals and Tokyo 2020. Perhaps placing in eighth was the best thing that ever happened to them? After all, they still managed to qualify for the team finals and also achieved their main goal, Tokyo qualification.
With the Olympic qualification pressure lifted, Italy had nothing to lose going into the team finals, vowing to place higher than eighth. Although the Italians had to wait until the very last routine, they not only performed better than eighth, they inched past China, receiving the bronze medal.
Of the five Italian gymnasts, only Desiree Carofiglio had competed on the senior level before. Carofiglio, 19, is most known for her stand-out floor routine. Her floor passes consist of unique front tumbling, including a front layout to double front and a cleanly executed Dowell. During the team final, Carofiglio’s score moved Italy up to 5th place and the Italians were one of the few teams to improve upon their qualification scores. The other four brand-new seniors, the "Core 4," or “The Golden Generation” as one commentator dubbed them, are:
Alice D'Amato (born February 7, 2003)
The twin sister of Asia, Alice is known for her exquisite and seamless transitions in her bar work. She is the 2019 European Championship bronze medalist on the uneven bars, the first Italian to win a European Championships medal on the apparatus.
Her win is remarkable because in 2015 she injured her knee and the rehab was difficult, preventing her from going further in her training. As her coach Enrico Casella said, “I’m very happy for Alice [winning a medal on bars] because until recently she was held back by her injuries. Anyone in her place would have lost hope. But we never doubted her strength and she proved her worth today. I hope this result gives her confidence because she has the talent already.”
Asia D'Amato (born February 7, 2003)
As a junior, Asia won just about every European event on the vault, including placing first in International Gymnix 2018. At the 2019 European Championships, she placed fourth in vault. She also shines on floor and was quite steely on beam, particularly in the worlds team finals.
Here she is in vault qualification in Stuttgart:
Elisa Iori (born March 21, 2003)
Also as a junior, Elisa placed third in the 2018 City of Jesolo balance beam competition. At the 2018 Europeans Junior Championships she placed third on balance beam and first on bars. Iorio was the only Italian gymnast to stay on the beam during the balance beam qualifications in Stuttgart.
Here she is performing that routine:
Giorgia Villa (born February 23, 2003)
Villa is the 2018 Youth Olympic Games all-around gold medalist and most experienced of the four. She excels all around, particularly on vault and uneven bars. Her floor routine doesn’t quite have the difficulty, but she more than makes up for that with her dance, arm movements, facial expressions, and crowd engagement. Tumbling and dancing to “Funiculi Funiculů” by ADYA, a very popular Neapolitan song, she exudes impish charm and playfulness. It’s this type of charm and heart-on-your-sleeve emotion that captivated Stuttgart when the team took home bronze.
What seems like a meteoric rise for this group has been years in the making. Here are a couple reasons they have been so successful:
They train together.
The party of four all train at the International Academy of Brixia in Brescia, Italy. Villa has been there since 2010, and Iorio was the last to join the club in 2017. Gymnasts do not have to train together to win as a team, however, Italy has no historical gymnastic playbook and has had to build their program from ground zero. During challenging training sessions, knowing your teammates are nearby certainly helps.
They’re coached by Enrico Casella.
Not only do they train together but they have the same coach. Casella coached 2006 world all-around champion Vanessa Ferrari and now coaches the foursome. He looks at each individual and develops the right training program for each gymnast. It was Casella that made the final decision to skip the European Games so that the four could train for the World Championships. This decision avoided any injuries and removed any extra distractions for the team to focus on worlds.
They idolize Vanessa Ferrari.
In the United States, Russia, or China there are many former gymnasts for an aspiring athlete to adore. Italy only has Vanessa Ferrari, who competed at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Summer Olympics, so all four gymnasts have the same idol. Her presence in the same gym has inspired them. Ferrari has also coached the four in the past, most notably at the 2017 International Gymnix in Montreal, Canada.
They trust themselves.
For a group of juniors that recently transitioned to the senior ranks, they have buckets of confidence and poise. Asia D'Amato had an agonizing wait before beginning her beam routine during team finals, but she gracefully stayed on the apparatus, solidifying Italy’s podium finish.
Iorio, the savior of beam qualifications, anchored the beam lineup during team finals, and immediately had a fall. What was outstanding was her ability to keep her composure, knowing how much was at stake. She not only kept her concentration, but she also kept her second layout step-out in her acro series, something she could have understandably eliminated to play it safe.
And then there’s Villa, who embodies the faith this group possesses. After falling off the beam in the qualifications, Villa mounted again and completed the routine with supreme confidence, even winking at the judges. Most gymnasts are rattled by mistakes, at times having more balance checks and mistakes after an initial fall. Check out Villa’s confident demeanor after she completes a double wolf turn during the routine:
Team Italy isn’t flustered by any country or any routine that gets in their way. Big wins are bound to be in the future for this young team and, ideally, they will continue competing for many years to come. We’ll wink to that!