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The Winter Olympics of Zeno Colò

On 27 February in Malpensa, the Italian athletes returning from Oslo descended from a four-motored plane. Journalists, photographers, sporting authorities and a considerable number of fans – more than on any other occasion – were waiting at the airport during that sunny winter afternoon. Quid novi? For the first time in the history of Italian skiing, an Italian athlete had brought a Gold medal back to Italy, and his name was Zeno Colò.

One month before leaving from the same airport, the champion from Abetone answered some radio reporters’ questions: “I feel good and I will do all I can to win a gold medal”. A very schematic and scant declaration typical of the taciturn Tuscan athlete, who gives little satisfaction to reporters expecting long, verbose answers. His few simple words, however, still carried much weight. In that moment, the Italian champion wanted to say what he really felt. For Italians, the 6th Winter Olympics could be labelled as “the Olympic Games of Zeno Colò”, even though other Italian athletes brought home some praiseworthy results.

An authoritative person from the sporting world said that “the results of one Olympic Games can only be compared with the results from another” and this affirmation could not be truer. In Oslo the anxiety and trepidation that pervaded everyone’s daily routine – including of the people accompanying the team – was evident. The Olympic Games come around (except during wartime) every four years, and if an athlete misses one of these appointments then he or she has very little chance of competing again.

[…] Let’s make a brief summary of the situation. For the first time in history of Olympic skiing, national teams were competing in the country that has the “honour” of having invented the sport. Its capital Oslo offered athletes from many countries the possibility of exhibiting their skills in stadiums, racing courses, ski jumps and on ice for almost all the events programmed. Norefjell, a little north of the capital, was where downhill skiers were able to exhibit their skills in the “freestyle” and the “giant slalom” with the tall fir trees lining the pistes. This is where Zeno Colò’s prize-winning performance and the success of Giuliana Minuzzo took place.

The Norway Winter Olympics taught us that in the space of four years, rankings can change dramatically. The Austrian athletes – ever more redoubtable – came to the forefront after defeating the French in every discipline. The Norwegians identified Stein Eriksen as their perfect athlete and new “national hero” (he was later defined as the first athlete of Norway), and Italy won its first Gold Medal. In the ladies’ events, the United States found glory with a double victory by the unclassified Andrea Lawrence-Mead, while Austria – continuing its positive trend – went on to win an event with Jochum-Beiser. Collectively the eight powerful German downhill skiers conquered an admirable position, a clear demonstration of their excellent overall athletic condition.

The Swiss team was also present with a completely new formation and some individual talent of the highest level; this was particularly evident in the performance of Fredy Rubi and the stocky Madeleine Berthod.

But as we said before, Italy won its first Gold medal.

Zeno Colò already knew the Norefjell pistes from the previous winter, but conditions had changed when he found himself on the same slopes this year! Scrub, stones, patches of ice, hummocks and a series of other difficulties giving the athlete no respite whatsoever. On his arrival, our athlete understood that that piste could be considered “his”, and ensured that this would be so by studying every single detail so much that some considered him almost excessive. His most feared rivals were Eriksen, who was on cloud nine following his recent victory in the “giant slalom”, and the four Austrian skiers, who were going to tackle the sheer drops of the Norefjell with the daredevil approach “entweder… oder” (either you make it or you don’t) to make that Gold Medal theirs. We must remember that the Austrians, although a formidable athletic team, had not won an international major event in the post-war period until Oslo. The Italian athlete was perfectly in control and won outright, and his 1 minute and 2 seconds lead over his runner-up was indisputable. Zeno Colò demonstrated with this latest of his many successes that he is a true champion, and when he has skis on his feet he is able to transform courage into a true science.

[…] What else? Ice-skating, bobsledding, more skiing? Sadly, there were no other openings for our athletes except for the cross-country relay. A more than modest performance by our skaters on the Bislett stadium, but a rather mediocre performance in the bobsleigh as the team had arrived in Norway with the (very important) extenuating circumstances of having had no previous training. With a healthy dose of good luck, the relay could have restored the lead position that Italy had held until 1941, but a bad waxing of the skis (done inadvertently) on the part of the generous De Florian irremediably compromised every possibility.

And so, on the Holmenkollen piste, our technicians swallowed their bad luck while the Olympic Games were drawing to a close. This notwithstanding, there was elation for the great victory of Colò and the fine successes achieved by the other athletes. Italy was finally having a victorious run.

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