Not just a hosting nation – the story of the Italian Olympic dream

Amos Mosaner at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 © WCF / Céline Stucki

Honour mixed with responsibility — that is how Italian national teams describe their feelings three years before the big event in their home country. The Olympic Winter Games 2026 will take place in two Italian cities, Milano and Cortina d’Ampezzo, but curling fans only need to know the latter, and it is not an unknown place for our sport.

The alpine city of Cortina formerly hosted the Olympic Games in 1956—the previous plan to host in 1944 was stopped by the Second World War. However, curling was not part of the Olympic schedule at that time.

The city has hosted curling events in the past, though. The first major competition was the world mixed doubles championship in 2009. One year later it was the men’s turn to play their world championship in the Olympic arena. The skip of the current Italian team, Joël Retornaz, was already leading the then-national squad, and they finished the round robin with a 3-8 record.

From dual careers to professionalisation

The lives of the Italian national female curlers have changed significantly with the upcoming Olympic Games in sight. Their schedules have become much busier than before, with some having evolved into professional athletes. “We are honoured to have the chance to compete on home soil and on the other hand, it feels different as for us every important competition has been abroad,” says the women’s team, skipped by current Olympic mixed doubles champion, Stefania Constantini.

Team Italy at the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2022, Östersund, Sweden © WCF / Ansis Ventins

For Joël Retornaz, however, this is not a new experience. Not only did his team already compete at the Olympic Games before, but he has also experienced it on home soil, back in 2006. “We are working the same regardless of the Olympics at home. We always try to give it our best every season outside the Olympics,” adds the men’s team.

The Italian curlers do not want to be “just” the hosting country, “We want to stand high and come to the event knowing that we have worked as hard as we could to perform at our highest level,” they say.

The women’s team has 17 events planned solely for this season. In order to be able to travel so often, three of them have become professionals. It was not an easy process: the male athletes got a chance to become professional six years ago, but for the women, this chance came only last year.

“During those years every one of us just kept going on with our dual careers, balancing a working or studying life and the high-level curling life. Being professionals has given us the chance to focus 100% on our sport, letting us fly abroad and compete without the pressure of being under a job agreement that doesn’t allow you to take so many days off,” the women’s team explains. They hope that this trend of professionalisation will continue to be available for next generations as well.

This season the men’s team have 15 events planned, including Grand Slam competitions in Canada, which they started playing in last season.

“We are all professionals which gives us the possibility to work hard every day in the best possible way,” says Amos Mosaner, third of  Team Retornaz, who won Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles last year with Stefania Constantini.

Amos Mosaner and Stefania Constantini © WCF / Stephen Fisher

New faces for the Olympic cycle

This season has brought some new additions to Italian squads. Elena Antonia Mathis Falivena joined the women’s team, who is originally from Wetzikon, Switzerand and actually played for Swiss teams in World Curling Tour events.

Due to her dual citizenship, she got the opportunity to become a part of the Italian Olympic team. What position she might be playing is, however, not yet decided, “We consider ourselves a ‘5-player team’ and there is a selection process, handled by coaches, that will decide the line-up for the upcoming events.” This process also applies to the men’s team.

On the coaches’ side, there have been changes as well. Marco Mariani, a long-time Italian coach, who also worked with Chinese teams for the Beijing Olympics, will assist the current women’s coach, Violetta Caldart.

The men’s squad will be coached by Canada’s Ryan Fry. He won Olympic gold as a player in 2014 and served as the coach of Canada’s Team Homan last season.

In his interview with the Curling News, he said that he felt extremely fortunate to get this new opportunity with the Italians: “The team aims for a level of absolute excellence and I am thrilled to be able to contribute in this journey that looks ambitiously to the next Olympics at home.”

Written by Feature Writer, Anna Kubeskova 

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Aberdeen, Scotland

15 November 2023
Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2023