Italian sport: Italian sports geniuses
- WTI Magazine #149 Mar 19, 2022
All over the world there are famous sports techniques invented by some athletes, such as the high jump with dorsal overrun invented by the Portland (OR) athlete Richard Douglas "Dick" Fosbury.
Italians, always recognized as a people of geniuses, thanks to the countless inventions of every kind that they have realized during the centuries, have left their mark also in sports. There are so many innovations introduced in some sports by Italian athletes and coaches, some of which are recognized throughout the world.
Starting from gymnastics, the sport discipline that together with diving and dance, offers the greatest opportunities to invent new exercises that then take the name of the athlete who first performed a movement never seen before. An exercise or even an absolute novelty adopted later by other athletes. For example, in the 60's, one of the strongest gymnasts in history, the Roman Franco Menichelli (he won 5 Olympic medals between the Olympic Games of Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964), presented himself at international competitions wearing shorts instead of the traditional long tights. The shorts were more comfortable for performing the exercises, but no one wore them out of habit. Following his example, in later years almost all gymnasts began competing in shorts.
Also in the world of gymnastics, several Italians have invented an exercise that was later recorded with their name in the manuals of the discipline. Among the most famous is the one invented by Igor Cassina, gold medalist at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games on the barre. The gymnast from Seregno, Lombardy, was the first in artistic gymnastics to perform a "Kovacs jump" (a double backward jump over the bar) with a 360° twist on the longitudinal axis, thus inventing the "Cassina movement", now famous all over the world.
World champion and Olympic silver medalist at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Vanessa Ferrari has also invented a movement in artistic gymnastics. The athlete from Orzinuovi, a town in the province of Brescia (Lombardy), was the first to perform a "strug", i.e. an enjambé jump with a one-foot push through the sagittal spread and with a complete 360° turn (an exercise invented by the American Kerry Strug), adding the ring position, i.e. a flexion of the back leg at the moment of maximum spread combined with a hyper-extension of the head.
But there is not only gymnastics among the innovations introduced by the Italians. Going far back in time, we discover that at the end of the 1800s, Livorno (Tuscany) cavalry captain Federico Caprilli invented the "natural system of horsemanship," revolutionizing the way of riding to jump obstacles. Thanks to his system, even today riders around the world put on extraordinary performances and horses are more respected. His was a revolutionary method based on a very simple concept: the horse carries the weight of the rider more easily on his shoulders than on his loins, as was the case until then. In addition, the horse uses its head and neck as a lever to keep itself balanced and therefore its movements are more efficient if it is allowed to move in its natural balance. Before his method, horses were trained with punitive methods and the results in jumping were disappointing when compared to his.
In marching, too, an Italian has invented a technical gesture now adopted throughout the world. He was the strongest marcher of all time, the Milanese Ugo Frigerio, who in three editions of the Olympic Games (Antwerp 1920, Paris 1924, Los Angeles 1932) won three gold medals and one bronze. In the two competitions in which he participated in Antwerp, and which he won, Frigerio marched by swinging his arms to give himself a greater thrust, thus managing to walk faster than the other athletes. That swinging movement of his arms which he adopted first, has become an increasingly natural gesture among marchers all over the world.
Another inventor of sports technique was the skier from Stelvio, a village in the province of Bolzano (Trentino Alto Adige), Gustav Thoeni, another legend of world sports. In the early 1970s, the great alpine ski champion invented the "push step", which revolutionized the way all athletes ski, allowing them to achieve record-breaking performances. In practice, Thoeni started to ski making the two legs independent, a gesture difficult to perform because unnatural. This allowed him to use the inner ski when exiting curves as if it were a skate, remaining in a precarious balance but obtaining greater acceleration.
We close this review with the sport most loved by Italians and now in almost every continent, soccer. Invented by the English, who later became the greatest masters of technique and tactics, the Italians are responsible for a game plan that has been adopted for decades all over the world, especially by clubs that have players of less than excellent quality.
It is called the "catenaccio", a term that derives from "chain", and was invented by Giuseppe Ferruccio Viani, a footballer and later coach born in Treviso, in the Veneto region. In the early '40s, when he was training uncompetitive soccer teams, he introduced the tactical innovation of adding a defender behind the last line, so that he could intervene whenever his teammates in front of him could not stop the opponent's attacks. The role was called “libero” ("free"), and with its introduction, the defense was strengthened and became the most important point of the team that, in fact, closed the opponents in a "catenaccio" and did not make them score. That module was later adopted also by big clubs and by the Italian national team, which became famous all over the world also for its "catenaccio" defensive module.