On Monday morning, 6 August, at approximately five minutes past ten a 30-year-old Italian will take to the track to compete in her very first Olympic Games. To the ranks of media her name will just be one of many on a list. Indeed when I tried to sell her story to the British press, they didn't have room to tell it. Marzia Caravelli is not a Usain Bolt, a Michael Phelps, or a Bradley Wiggins. She is the other side of the Games, a true embodiment of the Olympic ethos. Forget the global audience of billions, forget the brand names which rejoice in the title of Olympic Partners, forget too the glitz and glamour, the opening ceremony and all the talk of showcasing Britain to the world. What the Olympics Games are really about is the ability to dream. They were founded on ideals, and in Marzia Caravelli those ideals still hold true today.
The 100 metre hurdles is one of the toughest disciplines to master. It requires raw sprint power combined with expert timing to navigate over ten hurdles. All to be done in under 13 seconds for Olympic A standard qualification. In order to achieve this time Marzia Caravelli would have to run a personal best at the age of 30. A tough ask, for any athlete. Especially one with Caravelli's backstory.
The modern athlete shows promise at an early age. They are selected and groomed for greatness. In Italy this usually means being assigned to a military club. This association ensures the athlete has federation funding and access to training faciliites. As a youngster the Italian federation believed that Caravelli wasn't good enough. After years of struggling, fighting against the tide of federation backed athletes, she quit. For two years she stayed away from the athletics track. Though Olympians, true Olympians, never quit. Their success is born for overcoming the obsticles life puts there. The one thing they all have in common, is that however easy it may look they've put in the hard yards to get there.
So Caravelli, now a full-time teacher at a school for the deaf, answered the Olympic call which still burned inside her. She trained on her own, using weekends and whatever hours she could spare on weeknights. She ran in the cold, in the rain, and even the snow. Whilst others jetted away for warm weather training, she trained at a freezing indoor facilty unable to leave Rome as she held down a job. It was catch22 for her. The job paid for her to pursue her dream, but the working hours also prevented her from training to her optimum. Though through it all she never lost sight of her dream. When she took to the track it was often against Athletes who were full-time, and yet Caravelli beat them. All of them. She became the Italian number one in the 100m hurdles and in the 200m. Despite this she still received no funding. Unlike British Athletes there was no lottery funding, or sponsors wishing to boost their brand by associating themselves with their countries finest. These are hard times for the Italian economy.
As an athletics fan I first became aware of Caravelli in June 2010. She was a tall, rangy, hurdler. I saw something in her technique. She had such a smooth transition over the hurdles, the potential in her was great. We exchanged emails over the years. She was always upbeat, despite the clear dificulties of her situation. Always dropping a quick hello, and remembering my birthdays. Though one date dominated our conversation, 2012. This was her big year. Her last shot to make it to the Olympics. Her Dream.
There was a lot going against her. Her age, that she was an amateur in terms of her training schedule, and that she would be required to run faster than she'd ever run before. Despite all of this I knew she would make it. I'm not sure if she believed me or thought that I was just being kind. It didn't matter. What mattered is that somewhere deep down she believed she could do it.
At the 2011 European Team Championships in Stockholm, Caravelli placed 3rd. Then in May of 2012, with the Olympics barely two months away, Caravelli did something spectacular. At the age of 30, this part-time athlete, shattered the Italian record. A record which has stood for 18 years. She ran the 100m hurdles in a time of 12.85 - safely under the Olympic qualifying standard. Marzia Caravelli was going to London.
The London Olympics have been billed as 'Inspiring a generation', and Caravelli has done just that. Athletes from all over Italy contacted her, they applauded her pursuing her dream when even her own federation showed no faith in her. Caravelli ran, and still runs for those who dare to dream.
When it's all over, when the greatest show on earth packs up it's tent and heads off to Rio, we'll sit back and reflect. The gold medalists will live the dream with their rich endorsements it brings. Marzia Caravelli will return to her life of teaching, safe in the knowledge that she is an Olympian, and nobody can ever take that away from her.
So if you are in the crowd on Monday, or know someone who will be, please make your cheer a little louder for the unknown Italian making her Olympic debut, she's earned it.
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