Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Federica Pellegrini: Five things you did not know about the Italian swimming star 

The Beijing 2008 Olympic champion is heading for her fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo, but did you know she is also a restaurant owner with at least 14 tattoos?
By Andrew Binner

Being nicknamed ‘La Divina’ or ‘The Divine’ can only mean you are doing something right.

And that is the case for swimming sensation Federica Pellegrini, who was given the nickname by her legions of fans in Italy.

The Venice-born athlete burst onto the international stage as a 16-year-old, winning an Olympic silver medal at Athens 2004.

Four years later she converted that into Olympic gold at Beijing 2008, and is the only swimmer in history to medal at eight consecutive world championships in the same event.

She is also the only Italian swimmer to have set world records in more than one event (200m and 400m free).

That consistency over such a long period, in a sport where careers are typically short due to burn out, is perhaps the real reason why Pellegrini is considered other-worldly.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021 will be her fifth, and likely final, Games, but how well do you really know the 200m freestyle GOAT?

1 - Pellegrini's symbolic tattoos

With so much skin on display, swimming tattoos have understandably become quite a point of interest for fans in recent years.

Think Caleb Dressel, Adam Peaty, Bruno Fratus, and Anthony Ervin, who all sport large swathes of intricate body art.

Pellegrini, while not quite to the same degree, has at least 14 tattoos, each with its own meaning in her life.

The phoenix on her neck, for example, is symbolic of her career, which has been resurrected several times.

Elsewhere she has the Olympic rings (of course), roses, eyes, a dragon, feathers, and even one of her deceased cat Mafalda.

Federica Pellegrini has a phoenix tattooed on her neck
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

2 - She loves her pets

And that’s not the only place that Mafalda's memory lives on.

Pellegrini's Twitter handle (which boasts 739K followers) is @mafaldina88 is an amazing tribute.

The 32-year-old also owns two French bulldogs called Vanessa and Rocky, who feature regularly in her photos.

3 - Pellegrini’s got (other) talent

The swimming sensation’s large social media followings are testament to her celebrity status in Italy.

She has a serious passion for fashion and regularly posts model-style pictures of new outfits to her million followers on Instagram.

Stiletto shoes are her favourite item of clothing though, and we can only imagine how big (and bright!) her closet at home must be.

Pellegrini has also appeared on prime time TV as a judge on Italia’s Got Talent, and is a regular on the chat show circuit.

Federica Pellegrini (second from right) at the Milan Fashion Week in 2013.
Picture by 2013 Getty Images

4 - A famous name in food and drink

Pellegrini has a diverse portfolio of business interests, and opened a restaurant with her family called Tacco 11 (meaning heel, or stiletto, of course) near Venice in 2011.

The decision to move into the food and drink business was a natural one, given their expertise in the area.

Her father, Roberto, is one of Italy’s most famous barmen, while her brother, Alessandro, is studying in London to follow the same career.

Cheers to that!

5 - Federica inspired by Federer

Pellegrini is seeking to attend her fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo.

This longevity at the top of the game is rarely seen in professional sport, and it's clear why she is inspired by another timeless athlete in Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer.

“He also had highs and lows during his career, but with his class, he could play tennis for 100 more years if he wants,” Pellegrini told Olympic Channel in 2020.

“Perhaps now that I’m getting older, I’m starting to cheer for older people!”

You can watch that interview in full, below.