The youngest ever Italian to win a medal at the Winter Games – aged 15 in 2006 – Arianna Fontana finally secured a gold in her fourth Games, PyeongChang 2018, in the 500m. Arianna took home three medals (bringing her total to eight) to become the most decorated female short track speed skater in Olympic history.
On 10 December 2017, Arianna Fontana, named flagbearer for Italy at the PyeongChang Games, posted a photo of herself as a child on Instagram, wearing skates, a ski suit, knee pads and a short track helmet, and wrote: "I remember the exact moment that I decided to follow my passion. It is easy to remember, because I have thought of this moment every time I have been doubted, every time I was told that I wouldn't make it. It is in these moments that I have found the strength and the motivation to push myself and to realise that there are no limits, only in our imagination. Limits imposed by other people are not for me nor for those who remain committed to their vision." Born in Sondrio, in the Valtellina valley (Lombardy), Arianna began in her discipline at age four, following in the footsteps of her older brother. The talent she showed from an early age saw her join the Italian team at age 15 and promptly mount three podiums (500m, 1,500m and 3,000m) to give her second place overall at the European Championships in Krynica-Zdrój (Poland). Full speed ahead to Turin 2006!
On the ice in the Palavela arena in Turin, in front of a home audience, Arianna was eliminated in the quarter-final of the 500m and the semi-final of the 1,000m, from which she went on to place third in the B final, for sixth place overall. And on 22 February 2006, she competed in the final of the 3,000m relay with Marta Capruso, Katia Zini and Mara Zini. South Korea took gold and, with China disqualified, Canada secured silver and Italy bronze. At age 15 and 314 days, Arianna became the youngest ever Italian to win an Olympic medal at the Winter Games. As such, the young skater was named a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.
Determined to do all she could to close the technical gap separating her from the best Korean and Chinese skaters, Arianna won her first world medal at the 2007 World Championships in Milan (silver in the 500m) and shone on the European stage by winning the overall title in both 2008 and 2009, as well as a total of eight European gold medals in the period to 2010. At the Vancouver Winter Games, in the majestic Pacific Coliseum, the champion from Bormio Ghiaccio ASD was eliminated in the quarter-final of the 1,000m, finished third in the semi-final of the 1,500m and then ninth overall after winning the B final. The Italian 3,000m relay team also went out in the semi-final and did not perform well in the B final. But after a brilliant performance in the 500m, Arianna battled it out in the final on 17 February, maintaining third place throughout the race to take bronze behind Canada's Marianne St-Gelais (silver) and China's Wang Meng (gold). She became the first Italian to win an Olympic medal in a women's individual short track skating event.
In 2011, 2012 and 2013, Arianna reaffirmed her status as the unbeatable European champion by winning the overall title in the European Championships in Heerenveen (Netherlands), Mladá Boleslav (Czech Republic) and Malmö (Sweden). She also claimed her first overall bronze at the World Cup in Sheffield (United Kingdom) – with two silver medals in the 500m and 1,000m – and her second in Shanghai (China) the following year. In addition, she finished the 2011-2012 season at the top of the World Cup overall standings for the 500m, something which the Italian had not previously achieved. She explained in January 2014: "I aim to arrive at Sochi in peak physical and mental condition. I will attempt to make it to the finals of all distances, including the relays, and I will try for the medal each time." An Olympic target that she very nearly met!
Three podium places at Sochi 2014
In the space of five days, from 13 to 18 February 2014, Arianna did not step down from the podium in Sochi's Iceberg arena. It all started with an incredible 500m final: four laps from the finish, British skater Elise Christie took down Arianna and Park Seung-hi (South Korea) in a group crash behind Li Jianrou (China). The Chinese skater continued the race alone and took gold. The other three finalists picked themselves up and Christie crossed the line in second place, in front of Arianna. The Brit was then disqualified and the Italian awarded the silver medal, which, in her words, "felt like gold". Two days later, during the 1,500m final, a crash at the back of the field eliminated three of the seven skaters. Arianna maintained her position behind Shim Suk-hee (South Korea) and Zhou Yang (China) to cross the line for bronze. Finally, on 18 February, China was disqualified after the 3,000m relay, putting the Italian team (Arianna, Lucia Peretti, Martina Valcepina and Elena Viviani) – who crossed the line fourth – on the third step of the podium, which was topped by the South Korean team. But Arianna fell one event short of reaching her goal, after being given a penalty in the quarter-final of the 1,000m.
With four Olympic medals by the age of 23, Arianna took a long break beginning in 2015. "I was pretty tired mentally. My body was ready to race again but my mind was not. I had some doubts on whether to keep skating or not." During her time away from the ice, she took up boxing! When she returned to competition, qualifying for her fourth Winter Games in PyeongChang, she resumed her European dominance with new overall victories in Turin in 2017 and Dresden in 2018, one month before the Winter Games. Her European medal total reached 41 podium places and 24 titles, including seven overall wins.
The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games turned into a fairy tale for the 27-year-old champion. After carrying the Italian flag in the Opening Ceremony, Arianna finally reached her goal: on 13 February, in the packed Gangneung arena, she led the 500m final from start to finish, then held out against Choi Min-jeong to cross the line a skate's length (22cm) ahead of the South Korean, who was later disqualified for obstruction. The Italian's sixth Olympic medal was gold! "When I saw I was first, I was just yelling and started crying. I worked for four years, and the last four months were really hard for me. I was really focused on getting here in the best shape ever. I have been chasing gold and, finally, I have it," she said.
After placing seventh, and last, in the 1,500m final won by Choi, Arianna took the silver medal with Lucia Peretti, Cecilia Maffei and Martina Valcepina in the 3,000m relay, despite being caught up in a crash. Italy were the only team to officially finish behind South Korea; the other two teams – China and Canada – were disqualified, meaning that the Dutch team, winners of the B final, took bronze. Finally, two days later, Fontana won her eighth Olympic medal after finishing third in the 1,000m final won by the Dutch skater Suzanne Schulting, with silver going to the Canadian Kim Boutin. In four Olympic Games, Arianna Fontana has won a total of one gold medal, two silver medals and five bronze medals: she is the most decorated female short track skater of all time, equalling the records of the American Apolo Anton Ohno (two gold, two silver and four bronze) and the South Korean then Russian Viktor An (six gold and two bronze).
After leaving some doubt as to her possible retirement from the sport, Arianna announced at the end of May 2018 that she intends to continue competing. "It is time to resume training, to get in shape, to make plans for the years ahead, which will take me to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics," she said. And her objective is clear: "With just one more medal, I can become the no.1 Olympian of all time for my sport," – both men and women included!
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