Her expression speaks of singular emotions far beyond the solemnity of the Quirinal Palace, which makes for an exceptional setting. Because it shines with the magic of a unique day, alive with memories of a lifetime cherished by the soul, the Tricolore held proudly, and her mind already on 9 February. Circled in red for a long time, the date will mark a story that began from afar and will reward a career of sacrifice, talent and passion. Beginning in 2006 in Turin, triumphantly joining the Olympic greats - as the youngest Italian medal-winner ever - and continuing in Vancouver and Sochi: always on the podium, always a champion. Arianna Fontana, short track champion and flag bearer for Italy at the Winter Olympic Games 2018, will march into the heart of PyeongChang Olympic Stadium - in front of 35 thousand cheering people - waving the Italian flag. Received today from President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, handing over the flag is a deep-rooted tradition that, each and every time, evokes feelings that are difficult to summarise. This snapshot captures the prevalent characteristic of a ceremony that is simple and uncomplicated, yet capable of striking the most heartfelt cords. Alongside Arianna is hockey player Florian Planker, the second flag bearer, and a unique world - Olympic and Paralympic - that symbolises how sport unites, includes and brings people together.
Genuine speeches, words that touch the heart. Smiles, of course, of mutual affection, support, encouragement. This is how the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, greeted a delegation of Italian athletes departing for the Games in the Salone delle Feste (photo: Mezzelani-Ferraro-GMT), headed by CONI President, Giovanni Malagò, and President of the Italian Paralympic Committee, Luca Pancalli. Also participating in the ceremony were Minister of Sport, Luca Lotti, CONI’s Secretary General, Roberto Fabbricini, Vice Secretary General, Carlo Mornati, Senior Vice President, Franco Chimenti, Vice President Alessandra Sensini, the Presidents of the Italian Winter Sports Federation (FISI) and the Italian Ice Sports Federation (FISG), Flavio Roda and Andrea Gios, and members of the Committee and the National Council.
Malagò’s words underlined the significance of the Italian mission and the efforts undertaken in preparation. “It is a symbolic moment that encapsulates 4 years of dedication, of sacrifice, for any individual in any corner of the world who has achieved this difficult Olympic qualification. Since 1924, Italy has never had such a high number of qualifying athletes, aside from 2006 when we hosted the Games in Turin. This means that we will compete in 14 of the 15 sports and in precisely 95 of the 102 events. Thanks go to the work of the FISI, led by Flavio Roda, and the FISG, chaired by Andrea Gios. At 50 days from the Games, Mr President, we are ready to make an impression. For the country and also for you, Sir, our number one fan. We ask a small favour of you, to give up on but a few hours of sleep to follow us. Sport demonstrates that we are united and have great credibility abroad. Arianna Fontana is the youngest athlete to have won an Olympic medal at the Winter Games. Rightly, she is the flagbearer, because she has made it to the podium at 3 different Games. She is an Appointee of the Italian Financial Police, confirming the decisive role of the armed forces. We are proud of its support and this creates the conditions to make a great Olympian".
Luca Pancalli’s message was equally significant. “Mr President, you have always shown encouragement and support to our family. This is a country’s greatest moment, where sport represents the extent of inclusion possible: this sense of recognition and gratitude lives in every athlete present here. The pride with which Florian Planker will receive the flag from you is a pride we all share in. Each of them will prove to be an example of courage and perseverance for all. I do not wish to hide the emotion that ceremonies such as these create for me. The recognition, gratitude, pride and passion that give a ceremony a particular beauty. The end of the year, almost like an extraordinary season’s balance sheet, has seen an explosion in the Paralympic movement, which obtained recognition as a public body at the beginning of the year.”
Minister Lotti: “An emotional moment in which we seek the phrases that might help to describe this feeling. I think to our flag waving in Turin and the anthem sung by a 9-year-old girl. And then to the phrase by Newton: ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’, referring to those who preceded him, to those who opened up a world for him with their discoveries, advancing his own. Zeno Colò was a woodcutter who trained by carrying wood to strengthen his legs. His was the first gold medal at the Games in alpine skiing. To the athletes, I say: look to the giants of the past to build your success. You are already part of history and you are facing the final part.”
President Mattarella also embraced Italian sport. “Go and live out a greatly fascinating and important adventure. Qualifying for the Olympics is no easy feat. It is a challenging yet thrilling journey, because the Games are the exaltation of universality and kinship. Medal-winners are pushed to overcome their own limits as well as their opponents. Good luck. The flag that I had the fortune of handing over not only represents the fact that you will represent your country, but rather it is as though it accompanies you. Many will follow you with affection, feeling involved. The Games always call for much participation, encouraging attention to sport. Young people in particular. My age has allowed me to see many champions, from the fifties to the present day. You have my encouragement. Always feel the affection of our country by your side. You will return with medals, but the most important thing is participation.”
Lastly, the thanks by Arianna Fontana were touching. “This day marks a special moment of particular pride for myself and for all the people who have been close to me. On the day that I enter the stadium, there will be three people. The child who discovered a passion for skating, the youngster who reached Olympus and the woman you see today, who is ready to take on every challenge to help our country.”
Florian Planker: “I saw the Tricolore fly for the first time when I won the medal at Salt Lake City, and now I am proud to hold it in my hand. I am prepared for this duty that makes me proud.”
The following athletes present at the event were announced: Dietmar Noeckler, Federico Pellegrino (FISI), Anna Cappellini, Luca Lanotte, Charlene Guignard, Marco Fabbri, Valentina Marchei, Ondrej Hotarek, Matteo Guarise, Nicole Della Monica, Matteo Rizzo, Giada Russo, Martina Valcepina, Arianna Fontana, Lucia Peretti, Cecilia Maffei, Yuri Confortola, Mirko Nenzi, Nicola Tumolero, Andrea Giovannini, Davide Ghiotto, Michele Malfatti, Riccardo Bugari, Yvonne Daldossi, Francesca Bettrone, Francesca Lollobrigida, Daniele Ferrazza, Joel Retornaz, Simone Gonin, Amos Mosaner, and Andrea Pilzer (FISG). For the Italian Paralympic Committee: Florian Planker (flagbearer), Roberto Cavicchi, Manuel Pozzerle, Jacopo Luchini (FISIP - Italian Paralympic Winter Sports Federation), Bruno Balossetti, Roberto Radice, Gianluca Cavaliere, Nils Larch, Christoph Depaoli, and Andrea Chiarotti (FISG).