Biographical paths and new perspectives of sport history in Italy

Through this panel, three scholars discuss the relevance of collective and individual biographies for the history of sport in Italy. Nicola Sbetti, Daniele Serapiglia and Juan Antonio Simón debate the importance of the trajectories of figures who, directly or indirectly, have impacted the Italian collective imagination, analysing four different case studies. While these cases may appear different in time and space, they are all connected by a tragic ending. Indeed, death, stigma, and oblivion link the protagonists of these stories, offering us the opportunity to construct a debate that aims to rethink the approach and methodologies with respect to the construction of the biographical trajectories of Italian sportsmen and women.

Chair: Lorenzo Venuti (Università di Firenze)

Zeno Colò: the last amateur and first professional of Italian Alpine Skiing
Nicola Sbetti (Università di Bologna e Università di Siena)

Zeno Colò (1920-1993) is widely recognize as the first truly male Italian champion in Alpine Ski. Among many other successes, he set the speed world record on skis (Chilometro lanciato) in 1947, he won gold medals in both downhill and giant slalom, and the silver in slalom at the Aspen World Championships in 1950 and, even more important, he won the Olympic gold in the downhill at the 1952 Oslo Games. However, the aim of this presentation is not just simply to illustrate his career, which initially was ruined by the war. The focus of the presentation will be mostly his final part of his career, when, after the Olympic victory he accepted to sponsor some skis, ski boots and sporting clothing. Accused of professionalism by the Italian Ski Federation, Colò couldn’t participate to the 1954 Aare Championship. In 1956 Italy host its first Olympics ever in Cortina d’Ampezzo and Colò was still the best Italian skier and the possibility that he could win a medal for Italy sparkled a debate whether it was possible to re-admit him as an amateur. The aim of this presentation is to analyze through the press and the official documents of CONI, FIS and IOC, how Zeno Colò embodied the debate on amateurism and professionalism in Italian alpine ski at the eve of the 1956 Winter Olympics, when Colò was only a torchbearer.

Mater Dolorosa. The Superga Tragedy and the Women’s “Grande Torino”
Daniele Serapiglia (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

In 1949, the Superga tragedy marked one of the most important moments of national mourning in post-war Italy. Indeed, the Christian democrat government attempted to turn the funeral of the “Grande Torino” players into a symbol of a new republican Catholic identity. Starting from this prospective, through the study of press and archive sources, this paper, for the first time and in an original form, aims to interpret the event from a gender standpoint, analysing the allegorical function of the women close to the players who died in the tragedy.

Much more than an Italian hero: Marco Pantani and the creation of an immortal sporting legend
Juan Antonio Simón (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid)

Marco Pantani (1970-2004) is one of the great heroes of Italian sport, with an international impact that very few sportsmen in the history of this country have managed to reach. “Il Pirata” was an Italian professional cyclist, winner of the I1998 Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France of the same year. On 14 February 2004 Pantani was found dead in a hotel room in the Italian seaside resort of Rimini. This research analyses the image of this sporting hero and how he has been transformed into a collective symbol through the narration of his life in a wide range of cultural products such as books, films, TV series and consumer goods of all kinds. At the same time, this research also aims to carry out a bibliographical review of the main biographies that have been published about Pantani in recent years, analysing and comparing how the image of one of the most controversial sportsmen has been constructed through these books.