There could be no such thing as the perfect summer of sport, but if there is, Italy are experiencing it in 2021. The emotional cry of Gianmarco Tamberi as he realised he would share the gold medal with Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim was one of the best moments of the Olympic Games as just moments later, Italy would have their first 100m Olympic champion as Lamont Marcell Jacobs became the fastest man on the planet.
Jacobs was an outsider to win the Olympic gold, but Italy have defied the odds all year, in every aspect. In a relatively open 100m final following the retirement of three-time Olympic champion and fastest man of all time Usain Bolt, many thought it would be USA’s Fred Kerley that took home the gold.
But instead, with nobody in the lane beside him after Team GB’s Zarnell Hughes false started, he powered his way across the 100m in 9.84 seconds, ahead of Kerley in second. As he crossed the finish line, his countryman Tamberi was on track to embrace him as the whole of Italy celebrated with their two champions. Unlikely tales of success have been a running theme throughout the Italian’s sporting year but seeing this celebration was a truly heartwarming moment.
For a nation who love to outwardly show their emotions, the sporting world got to share in their collective joy. That couple of minutes is for many people, their highlight of the Games so far, as they followed in the footsteps of the footballers who became European champions at Wembley.
The defensive heroics of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci in particular summed up the emotion of the Italians as their roars in London reverberated around Europe. Having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the Italians bounced back to win the European Championships for just the second time. The celebrations that unfolded at the Piazza del Popolo after that penalty shootout win were utterly joyous to watch after a year of coronavirus had completely shut down the entire country.
It is worth nothing that at the start of the pandemic, no European country was as hard-hit as Bel Paese. We watched on from relative normality here in the UK as Italy’s hospitals were overwhelmed, they lacked the needed number of ventilators and 800 people per day were dying in March 2020.
The virus is not gone, but to have the country unite in celebration once more after that final must have warmed the hearts of even the most patriotic Englishman. Remarkably, Italy’s summer of sport could have got even better. At Wimbledon, Matteo Berrettini became the first Italian since 1976 to reach the final of any Grand Slam and he was only eventually defeated by the most successful tennis player of all time, Novak Djokovic. The Serb is still on track to win the Calendar Slam so to lose to him in four sets is something to be proud of in itself.
And of course, how can we talk about Italy’s winning year without mentioning Eurovision? It may not strictly be sport, but Maneskin won this year’s event in Rotterdam, and Italy were crowned champions of Europe in a musical sense for the first time since 1990. We should have known back in May that this would kick off an unprecedented summer of Italian dominance.
The 100m final win was unexpected, the high jump win was emotional and the football win was epic. But 2021 has certainly been the year of the Italian.