“I trained a lot to achieve my dreams and finally they became a reality!”
Italian swimmer Federico Morlacchi has enjoyed a well-deserved place in the spotlight this year following his performances at the European Open Championships and the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, and faces 2017 with even more confidence.
Morlacchi arrived in Rio on the crest of a wave after a breath taking performance at the Euros in in Funchal, Portugal, in May.
He took a total of five gold medals in Funchal; successfully defending his men’s 400m freestyle S9; claiming gold in the 100m freestyle S9, the 200m individual medley SM9 and 100m breaststroke SB8 and storming to victory in the 100m butterfly S9.
Morlacchi had grown in speed and self-confidence since London 2012 and he arrived in Rio de Janeiro in a strong position with plenty of hours behind him in the pool. The scene was undoubtedly set for something special.
His strategy in the run up to Rio 2016 was simple: “First of all we started training breaststroke for the 100m, and that helped my individual medley a lot!” he said. “Then we started training even harder knowing I had to be in the best shape possible to try to catch a medal in Rio.”
The hard work paid off - he took his first Paralympic title in the 200m individual medley SM9, winning the 500th Paralympic medal for his country at just 23 years old.
“I trained a lot to achieve my dreams and finally they became a reality!” he said.
The individual medley SM9 class has always been one of the strongest for the young Italian, already claiming gold at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, Great Britain.
Morlacchi took another three medals at the Paralympic Games in Rio beating his longstanding rival, Hungary’s Tamas Sors, to finish second in the 100m butterfly S9, and taking silver in the 100m breaststroke SB8 and 400m freestyle S9.
“I think that the 100m butterfly was one of the most beautiful races in my whole life!” says Morlacchi. “Dimosthenis [Michalentzakis] was superb, but he had to break the PR [Paralympic Record] to beat me and Tamas.”
Federico has been at the centre of Italy’s recent success in swimming, helping to build its reputation across Para sport more widely.
His country finished ninth overall in the medals table for Rio 2016, following an incredible fourth place at the European Open Championships.
The response back home in Italy has been overwhelming according to Morlacchi: “We were so lucky to have the most important Italian broadcast television channels to follow us in Rio. In fact every Italian watched us and was thrilled by the Italian athletes.”
Apart from winning his first Paralympic gold in Brazil, Morlacchi will remember the festive atmosphere across the Paralympic Village which reminded him that the Paralympics are about so much more than just sport.
A popular figure, Morlacchi is always smiling in and out of the pool, and it is this positive attitude that has served him well in his career. He explained: “I think that life is really, really better if you enjoy every minute and every second! I think that it’s helped me a lot in every defeat I had to suffer.”
His goal for the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City is to have fun in all his races and compete against his rivals once again.
“I will be happy to face again great swimmers like Brenden, [Hall], Timothy [Disken] and of course I want a great clash in the 100m fly!”
Morlacchi has been busy moving house and continuing his studies in osteopathy this autumn. It is hard to imagine when he has had time to reflect on everything he has achieved.
But with Christmas around the corner he plans to relax and take a holiday, recharge and start the new year full of energy.
The Mexico City 2017 World Para Swimming Championships are expected to attract around 500 swimmers from 50 countries, competing in the first major Championships since Rio 2016 between 30 September – 6 October.