Italy continued its summer of incredible sporting success by clinching gold in the men’s 4x100m relay at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
It was the country’s first-ever victory in the men’s relay and brings the total number of medals won by Italy so far at this Olympics to 38 – placing it seventh in the medals table, the highest among countries from mainland Europe.
“This is an historic record, we don’t want it to stop,” said Giovanni Malagò, the president of the Italian Olympic Committee.
The Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, called Malagò immediately after the relay victory. “You’ve been brilliant, I am very proud of you all and will be waiting for you at the Quirinal [the presidential palace],” he reportedly said.
Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, said: “In Tokyo we’re writing history, an all-Italian history. What a crazy day, and how much joy the Azzurri are giving us. Heart, pride and a lot of grit.”
Italy’s athletes were already doing the country proud when earlier on Friday Luigi Busà won gold in the men’s 75kg karate, beating Rafael Aghayev from Azerbaijan. Antonella Palmisano also won gold in the women’s 20km race walk after Massimo Stano triumphed in the men’s event on Thursday.
“Italy doesn’t stop dreaming,” read the headline on the lead story of Corriere della Sera’s website on Friday. La Repubblica described the men’s relay win as “legendary” while La Stampa said it was “Italy’s fairytale”.
The quartet of Lorenzo Patta, Eseosa Desalu, Filippo Tortu and Lamont Marcell Jacobs – who won the 100m final on Monday – beat Great Britain into second place.
Tortu ran the final leg for Italy and fought back tears when speaking to reporters in Tokyo.
“It’s difficult to talk about me because the relay is run in four,” Tortu said. “I didn’t understand. I asked Lorenzo [Patta] if we had won and he confirmed it. It’s crazy. I thought I had run out of tears … tonight I won’t be able to sleep a wink, the most beautiful thing will be singing the national anthem on the podium tomorrow.”
The medals – as well as the success of the Italian rock band Måneskin at Eurovision, and the Euro 2020 football victory – have been seen by many as a kind of national redemption after a year-and-a-half of struggle that began with a strict lockdown at the start of the Covid pandemic.
“It has been an absolutely extraordinary summer,” said Sebastiano De Acutis, a sports teacher and expert in athletics. “There’s been such a great enthusiasm among fans of all sorts of sports. Italian athletics has come back to life – we haven’t had this kind of victory for so many years, not since the 1930s. We were hoping to win a medal in the relay, but didn’t expect gold.”
On Monday, Jacobs became not only the first Italian to reach an Olympic 100m final but the first to win gold. The Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, was so moved by the victory that he disrupted an interview with a Spanish radio station to call Jacobs. “Italy is proud of you,” Draghi told the sprinter.
Also on Monday, Gianmarco Tamberi shared first place in the high jump.
Tamberi’s victory in particular was praised as one of the most heartwarming moments of the Tokyo Games, after he agreed to share gold with his friend and opponent, Mutaz Barshim of Qatar.
As soon as the official said that was possible, Tamberi instantly accepted, slapping Barshim’s hand and jumping into his arms.
“To me, this is among the most beautiful images of these Olympics,” tweeted one Italian fan. “This is the true meaning of sport.”
Story first published on The Guardian