Italian sports gathered at the Quirinale for the classic ceremony to hand back the Tricolour. Beijing 2022 is, in fact, the second Winter Olympics ever in terms of the number of medals. Before the President of the Republic, the Italian team presents itself with the pride of having represented the country at its best.
'Mr President, once again, you give us the honour of being here in the home of the Italians,' said CONI President Giovanni Malagò. But before celebrating the achievements in Beijing, I cannot help but make a point: we had parted on 23 December in a festive mood, but with an affectionate embarrassment because it would be the last time with you. Today we are very happy to say 'well-found president'. Athletes are used to cheering, but they cheered for her in this case. I think it is the right thought for everything he has done for us over the years'.
Indeed, the link between the Head of State and the world of sports is strong. The President demonstrated this in his speech to the Olympic and Paralympic medallists in Beijing 2022.
'It is a great pleasure to welcome you and thank you for these results,' he told them. We meet again unpredictably here at the Quirinale for the handing back of the flag. You have honoured it with your commitment and your results. Every morning I just look at the overall number of the medal table because it is that number that gives the idea of the vitality of the movement. While mentioning the successes of the 'Azzurri', the President then thanked the individual athletes. Starting with Arianna Fontana, the blue medallist at the Games 'who won the most medals and went down in history', passing through Stefania Constantini and Amos Mosaner's curling gold, 'in a speciality that is not widely practised and that I am passionate about', to the four medals of Paralympic athlete Giacomo Bertagnolli, which the Head of State described as 'an extraordinary result for the Paralympic world'.
The President's thoughts turned to Sofia Goggia, who had received the Tricolour from him on 23 December but who, due to an injury that put her Olympic participation at risk, had to give up her role as flag-bearer in favour of Michela Moioli, already designated for the closing ceremony. 'We hoped that 20 days after the accident, a high-level performance would be possible, but it was incredible what she did,' Mattarella pointed out. It is a silver that is worth as much as gold, to which is added the downhill world cup'. Speaking of Federica Brignone, the Head of State reiterated that 'the combination of Super G World Cup and Olympic medal is really important'.
With its 17 Olympic and seven Paralympic medals, Beijing 2022 was truly a record edition for Italy. 'It was the second most medal-winning Winter Games ever. We are a multidisciplinary country,' Malagò recalled, thanking the FISI and FISG federations. Between the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics, we are the third country worldwide for medals won in different disciplines. We are behind only the United States and Russia'.
'For all the events that have happened since that 23 December, the Paralympics seem to have taken place in another historical context,' said CIP President Luca Pancalli. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict also entered the Paralympics, casting a heavy and sombre shadow over what was supposed to be a sports festival under the banner of the universal peace dialogue. Nevertheless, the results of all the delegations, including Italy, were all the more valuable given the difficulties in which they competed. In the first few days, there was a very tense atmosphere. First, the International Paralympic Committee tried to save our people, then the Russian and Belarusian athletes who had arrived, by distinguishing them from the rulers. Unfortunately, the pressure was mounting, and the risk of a boycott forced us to exclude the Russian and Belarusian athletes. It remains a wound for the entire international committee. The athletes have decided to honour the sport with passion and loyalty, which is why their achievements should be even more appreciated. Our team, with many rookies, won seven medals, two more than Pyeongchang, but everyone honoured the Italian national team, even those who did not make the podium.
'Sport, despite the pandemic, has never stopped and has moved Italians at a time when the country needed positive messages,' acknowledged the Undersecretary in charge of Sport, Valentina Vezzali. It confirmed its value during the Beijing Winter Games with great passion by demonstrating heart, commitment and professionalism. For this, I would like to thank each member of the Olympic and Paralympic delegations. Picking up the baton in Beijing for the 2026 Games was a great emotion.'
Speaking on behalf of the Italia Team is flag-bearer Moioli: 'It is a great honour to hand back the flag that was our companion in China. And it is indeed a great honour to have been the standard bearer who flew our flag under the skies of Beijing. It was an intense Olympics full of pitfalls. Still, one that we faced with great commitment, determination and resilience, and in the difficult moments, the support and affection of Italy, which came from the other side of the world, helped. The appointment now is at our Olympics, the Olympics of all Italians, which I have dreamed of facing since I was a child'.
The attention of the sports world shifts to Milan-Cortina 2026. 'More than ever, commitment and responsibility are felt today,' said Malagò. It requires us to do well. We will have the eyes of the world on us. It is wonderful for male and female athletes to imagine they will be stars in 2026. Definitely, it brings us an extra load of commitment to do well to prove it to the whole country. 'Every year, there are new motivations, and Milan-Cortina is among them,' Bertagnolli added.
'Italy will be host and protagonist,' assured Mattarella, who in his speech recalled the conflict in Ukraine: 'Russia's aggression is exactly the opposite of the Olympic meaning of peace, friendship, democracy and cooperation. I would like to thank the athletes who preserved the spirit despite the war-torn and clouded atmosphere. Recover reasonableness. Italy will continue to pursue political and economic initiatives, helping those resisting for their independence and making constant appeals for peace. To call for peace is to call for Olympic and Paralympic values'. (photo Luca Pagliaricci and Ferdinando Mezzelani)