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Cross country skiing. The sad parable of Italy, from jewel to scribble. Can a blue phoenix rise from the ashes?


The Cross-Country Skiing World Cup ended early on Sunday 13 March. Much has been said of the evils that afflict the discipline, which resembles a hospital ward for how much it is suffering. Nonetheless, within this hypothetical sanatorium there is a patient apparently in the terminal phase . We are talking about Italy , which has closed yet another negative season. Because it cannot be defined otherwise as a winter in which, as has been the case for too long, Federico Pellegrino was the only one able to really leave his mark.

The Aosta Valley player went all-in on the Beijing Olympic Games , wearing a very bright silver . But other high notes have not arrived and the impression is that Chicco is starting to show the string, as is normal. He is 31 years old and he is a specialist in a format where biology generally does not allow to be competitive for very long. Certainly there are exceptions, but sooner or later nature takes its course and, in this sense, the future is not rosy. At the 2023 World Cup the sprint will be in classic technique, while in 2024 there will be no medals to be won. It is true that next year the pairs trial will be in the beloved skating, but a partner will still be needed to rise to the occasion.

Of course, there is Francesco De Fabiani , but there are more great events in which he has collected in the sprint team than those in which he has hit. After all, of the last four, only Seefeld 2019 went the right way. Like Pellegrino, the Alpine from Gressoney also decided to go to train with Markus Cramer and several Russian athletes. However, unlike what happened with the fellow countryman, who achieved his seasonal goal by climbing on the Olympic podium, for the younger of the two from Valle d’Aosta we can speak of an unproductive experience . Things did not work out, because if the move was to be used to make the leap in quality, this has not been seen. On the contrary. When did De Fabiani ever fight for the podium? Some prestigious placements have arrived here and there, but nothing very different from what he had already achieved in recent years without the advice of renowned foreign technicians. Looking at the rest of the movement, one would only repeat concepts that the writer has expressed several times in the last year and a half. Before continuing to reflect, it is good to re-propose the link to the article published immediately after the end of the Olympic Games, just to reiterate what is written once again .

Cross-country skiing, a great fast is expected for Italy. Will Beijing 2022 be the last Olympic medal?

There are those who silenced the article of defeatism , then waving the silver medal won by Elia Barp at the Junior World Cup a few days later as a demonstration of the fact that, on the contrary, the Italian fund is alive and fighting with us . Well, let’s go and read the golden register of the Junior World Cup. We find side by side in the same edition (2008) the names of Calle Halfvarsson , Hans Christer Holund and Philipp Marschall . Do we want to compare the careers of these three? A few years later (2011) we have Sergey Ustiugov , Sindre Bjørnestad Skar and Markus Weeger . Same as above, do we want to compare the senior competitive activity of each of them? There are editions where the protagonists were Johannes Høsflot Klæbo and Ivan Yakimushkin , but in others the junior world champions were Jean Tiberghien , Eirik Augdal and Roman Kaygorodov . In short, anyone who knows sporting dynamics and is intellectually honest, knows well how youthful success is not a prerequisite to that at an absolute level ; and viceversa. The history of every area demonstrates this, not just cross-country skiing.

Nobody knows what Elia Barp’s competitive evolution could be . It is worth remembering that, before him, in the last twelve years there have been two other Italians able to win a medal in the sprint at the Junior World Championships. One is Federico Pellegrino , the other is Giacomo Gabrielli . Need to add more to have a further demonstration of what has just been written? A youth world champion medal does not guarantee anything. Careers are all to be written and you can go from one extreme to another, with every possible nuance in between.

The Gordian knot, however, is not “what will be” in the future Barp and any other blue. The Gordian knot is what has already been and has led to the situation we have arrived at. In this regard, allow us to propose a poker of food for thought based on concrete facts and impossible to deny.
Number one . Giandomenico Salvadori has been consistently number three of the Italian men’s team for six years. In this long period of time he has not yet closed the general classification of the World Cup in the top 50 positions.
Number two . Since the retirement of Arianna Follis and Marianna Longa, which took place eleven years ago, no Italian team has closed the general classification of the World Cup in the first 25 positions.
Number three. No Italian born from 1994 onwards has yet closed the general classification of the World Cup in the first 80 positions. We are in 2022, the class of ’94 are turning 28 years old.
Number four . The last blue podium in the women’s field is dated March 20, 2011. Since then, in the first level competitions, at least one has been obtained by Norway, Sweden, Russia, Finland, United States, Poland, Germany, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Slovakia and even Japan. Thirteen different countries, from three of the four continents located in the northern hemisphere (Europe, America, Asia). Only Africa is missing. Just as Italy is missing.

In light of these facts, does anyone still have the courage to say that tricolor cross-country skiing is not going out like a candle ? The problem is not so much De Fabiani who assumes the contours of the unfinished, the number three of the men’s team who fails to close in the 50s of the general, or the sprinters who even spitting blood do not go beyond the semifinal. THE PROBLEM IS ALL THAT IS MISSING AROUND WHAT WE SEE. And we dare to shout it, for once.

What was written immediately after Beijing 2022 is reiterated. In case it is not clear, it is the whole system that is sick from the very beginning, that is, since the kids start to compete at the competitive level. Furthermore, it is the whole environment that is rotten , deep down, as it is not the results that count (which by the way are not there), but logics dictated by the immediate interest of individuals or very small groups , be they of local or managerial nature.

Once the Italian cross-country skiing ate its opponents, now it is only devouring itself . The tragedy is that there is no cure for this disease, as it is precisely the generalized attitude that is the loser , being impregnated with a disturbing corporatism , sometimes even generated by families. By now on social networks there are many examples of parents, relatives and friends who plead the cause of this or that other athlete. Sometimes openly, sometimes even using pseudonyms or accounts under false names. Constant lobbying is a clear sign of how suffocating the environment is. If you have no qualms about behaving like this in public, let alone what happens in private or behind the scenes

In 2002 we celebrated two different Olympic champions in the same edition of the Games , a goal that had been achieved up to that moment exclusively by Russia (in its various emanations) and subsequently equaled only by Norway and Sweden. In 2006, Italy broke one of the biggest taboos in the history of the Olympics , becoming the first nation to win the gold medal in the men’s relay at home. The enterprise signed by Fulvio Valbusa, Giorgio Di Centa, Pietro Piller Cottrer and Cristian Zorzi still remains unmatched.

Among the women we sat at the table of the superpowers . History was written among men, the one with a capital “S”. This was Italian cross-country skiing. A jewel looked at with envy and respect by the rest of the world. What is it today? A little monster too busy devouring himself to realize how ugly, small and marginal he has become compared to the past. A scrawl distorted by the interference of relatives, friends and bureaucrats (whose roles sometimes overlap each other). A toad poisoned by the absence of meritocracy and the mystification of the reality of the facts. To make everything even more demeaning there is the lack of interest of the upper floors for the prevailing collapse, because otherwise we would have already acted to stop the degradation. It did not happen and we are where we are. The correct term begins with the letter “M” and ends with the letter “a”.

The question at this point is only one. Will it be possible to burn all the rot, in such a way as to bring about a healthy purification, hoping to witness the rebirth of a splendid blue phoenix from the ashes of what is now? Or will we have to resign ourselves to the current squalor, pretending to be “the best Italian cross-country skiing possible” ? Posterity will judge.