Maurilio De Zolt was a diminutive athlete who was nicknamed “Grillo” (Cricket). His career showed a steady improvement in spite of his initial problems with the new skating technique in cross-country skiing. In 1977 he joined the national team when he was already 27-years-old, thanks to his victory in the 50 km at the Italian Championships that year. He then participated in two Winter Olympics (1980 and 1984) and two World Championships (1978 and 1982) with little success. In the World Cup he made his first podium (third) in the 50 km at Lahti in March 1982. He won his first medals at the World Championships in 1985 with a bronze in the 15 km and silver in the 50 km and relay. At the 1987 World Championships, De Zolt took his first gold medal in the 50 km event, leading from start-to-finish. He won his first Olympic medal in 1988, finishing second in the 50 km behind Sweden’s Gunde Svan.
De Zolt was less successful In the World Cup with a best overall rank of ninth in 1991. His only World Cup victory came in March 1991 in the relay race in Lahti. At the next World Championships in 1991 he took a bronze medal, adding a silver at the 1992 Winter Olympics, both in the 50 km. At the 1993 World Championships De Zolt was part of the Italian relay team, which won the silver medal. The highlight of his career was relay gold in his last Olympic appearance, at Lillehammer in 1994, as Italy narrowly defeated favored Norway in what many consider the greatest cross-country race in Olympic history. He was also a four-time winner of the most important Italian ski marathon, the Marcialonga. At Italian Championships De Zolt won 18 titles – 10 at 50 km, with four each in the 30 and 15 km, with 17 years between the first and last.
De Zolt retired in 1994 at the age of 44 as the oldest winner of a cross-country gold medal, although he returned for two races in 1997. Together with his 1994 relay teammates he carried the torch within the Olympic Stadium at the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics, and as the oldest member of the team, he had the task of holding the torch. In 1987 he was appointed Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. He was a trained machine maintenance mechanic and worked for 30 years in the local fire brigade, even placing second in ladder climbing at the World Fireman Championships.
Maurilio DE ZOLT
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