Gregorio Paltrinieri (5 September, 1994) is an Italian freestyle swimmer whose rapid rise through the ranks has made him a serious podium contender at his favoured 1500m distance, as well as at 800m and 400m.
Gregorio started swimming at a very young age, and until the age of 12, he specialized in breaststroke. However, as he grew, he converted to freestyle, specializing in the longer pool distances.
His first international success came as a 16-year-old at the 2011 European Junior Championships in Belgrade, where he won the 1500m gold and an 800m bronze. Fittingly, his victory was achieved in the same pool – the Tasmajdan – that legendary Italian long-distance swimmer Novella Calligaris won the 800m gold medal and set a new world record at the first edition of the World Championships in 1973. Having qualified for the World championships in Shanghai, he did not progress further than the heats, but a few weeks later at the World Junior Championships in Lima, Peru, he was back on the podium with a 1500m freestyle silver and an 800m bronze.
If 2011 revealed that he was a promising prospect, 2012 announced him as a real medal contender at 800m and 1500m. In March he won the Italian 800m freestyle title, and two months later, he left everyone in his wake at the European Championships in Debrecen, defeating renowned Hungarians Gergő Kis and Gergely Gyurta in the 1500m. His impressive time of 14:48.92 more than qualified him for the Olympics – at the time it was the year’s second-fastest 1500m swim, and it broke the championship record.
In London, Gregorio won his 1500m heat in a time of 14:50.11, his second-best performance ever, and qualified for the final with the fourth fastest time. Competing in the final with tendinitis in his left shoulder, he still finished fifth in 14:51.92. It was his first Olympics, and he was still a month shy of his 18th birthday.
His season, however, was not yet finished. In November at the European SC Championships in Chartres, he won the 1500m freestyle gold medal in 14:27.78, his personal best and the second fastest Italian time in history after Federico Colbertaldo’s national record of 14:24.21 set in 2008 during the hi-tech swimsuit era. A few weeks later at the World SC Championships in Istanbul, he picked up the 1500m silver medal to cap a memorable year that promises much for the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, and beyond.
Gregorio Paltrinieri was destined to be a swimmer. At three months he was already in the water doing the infants aquatics course his parents enrolled him in, and he learned to move comfortably in water long before he did on terra firma. His father Luca was a former capable swimmer in his own right, and he managed the pool in Novellara in the province of Reggio Emilia where Greg grew up, so naturally he spent a lot of time at the pool, and it was there that he swam his first strokes. He also remembers his family’s annual holidays at the ocean, where he and his father would always race each other. “I loved it,” remembers Greg, “even though I never won.” Interestingly, his mother doesn’t swim, and isn’t interested in learning.
At the age of six he started to compete, swimming under the guidance of his father, and up to the age of 12, he was a breaststroker. However, when he started to grow – today he is 1.91m – he switched to freestyle. The Sydney Olympics in 2000 unearthed his idol, Ian Thorpe, whose three gold medals and two silvers impressed him immensely, perhaps even as much as the full body swimsuit he wore that changed the face of swimming for a decade. Greg doesn’t remember precisely when he decided to pursue swimming seriously, but the results started coming, and his almost predestined career was launched.
In September 2011 Greg’s life changed significantly as he left his home town of Carpi for the national training centre in Ostia near Rome, where he lives and trains with other middle distance freestyle athletes under the guidance of coach Stefano Morini. In Ostia he rooms and goes to lessons with Morini’s nephew, Gabriele Detti, a long-time rival who has become his friend. Their rivalry extends beyond the pool to FIFA 2012, where Detti, it seems, has the upper hand on the Playstation.
Another passion for Greg is basketball, a sport he could see himself playing if he wasn’t a swimmer. He’s a big New York Knicks fan, and at one time had the dream of playing in the NBA. Thankfully for us he chose swimming, but he still can’t resist picking up a ball and shooting a few hoops whenever he comes across a basket. It’s perhaps no surprise then that rap is his favourite music genre.
In contrast to these contemporary fashions, Greg also has an interest in the history of art, and admires the 17th-18th century Age of Enlightenment as a time of fresh thinking and change. He could see himself getting into architecture, and given the choice of three personalities from history to have dinner with, his selection is thoughtful and eclectic – Abraham Lincoln, Oscar Wilde, and Marilyn Monroe.
To relax he simply likes to hang out with family and friends, and it was the first thing on his mind after the Olympics – to head home to Carpi. Unfortunately his destination was not his parents’ home, since the street they live on was damaged in the earthquakes of May, 2012, and his parents had taken refuge in his grandmother’s house.
But above all, when Greg has spare time, he heads for the beach. His early visits to the ocean have developed a palpable love for the water, and he’ll swim out far from the shore, sometimes trailing the kayaks and paddleboats that his less water-agile friends are in. In the past he’s participated in 3-5km open water swims, alongside renowned champions.
His favourite holiday is one involving the beach and boats, and he fondly recalls a time he spent on board a catamaran when he was 14, his friends making fun of him because he spent more time in the water than on the boat. Before breakfast, he had already swum a kilometer or two. Sounds like a born swimmer to me.