"Hey guys, this year the European Championships are going to be held in Turin! Think we can manage to fill a bus?"
"Who knows, maybe not a whole bus, but we'll go, that’s for sure!"
It’s end of September. That Turin was going to host the European Short Track Championships had been formalized a couple of months ago.
I remember that February 11 years ago.
I remember a big flurry of action at the bus stop at Polaggia, from where in the afternoon, Alessandro and many other friends were going to leave for the Piedmontese capital.
I remember my old tv set in the living room tuned in to Raidue, Via Postalesio deserted and a long silence between the end of the final race of the women’s relay and then the judges’ verdict:
“Bronze for Italy!” – the speaker in stadium Pala Vela yelled suddenly.
At the age of 15 Arianna had made her mark in the history of Short Track with a certain aplomb.
I remember the sound of car horns here and there, the Italian tricolour flag on the balconies of Berbenno and a big torchlight procession on the streets of our village.
“All there. Driver, we can leave!”
I count the vacant seats of the bus: 4. Considering that Maria will come on board at Morbegno and Tommy at Desio, we can consider this trip (almost) sold-out.
A four hour drive, hasty check-in at Hotel La Darsena in Moncalieri and off we go to the Pala Vela stadium. Maria Luisa and Renato have arrived in Turin the day before and managed to reserve a whole “slice” of the stadium just for us: with the little green berets on our heads (lovingly prepared by a couple of ladies from Castione ), waving Italian flags, all standing up singing Mameli’s hymn.
Let the European Championships begin.
From the 1500 m semifinals, Arianna and her national team companion Lucia Peretti go straight to the finals. Those 13 long laps leave a lot of room for tactics and when there are just two more laps to go, Arianna is in fourth position. The bell rings as they begin the last lap and I see that Arianna on exiting the curve takes the straight at top speed: she overtakes Russians Prosvirnova and Konstantivova as well as Dutch Schulting, comes in first and wins an incredible gold medal. The whole Fan Club at Pala Vela is overjoyed: such an overtaking one has not seen (probably) since the World Championship in Saguenay in 2011.
But there is hardly time to celebrate this event, the 500 metres are waiting.
Relatively easy quarter-finals, shaky semi-finals (because of an irregular manoeuvre on La Schulting’s part, who is disqualified), finals in fourth position - trying to catch up Arianna goes all out: she overtakes De Vries on the inside - an outcry from the audience, flags are being waved, but then…. Arianna vanishes from view. Trying to come in first, she has lost adherence on the ice: the fall causes her to come in fourth.
At the end of the first day Arianna is nevertheless overall leader and qualifies for the relay finals together with the national team.
The whole Fan Club group goes back to the hotel: for this evening we have “only” planned a super dinner for 60, a reminder that the group is always fundamental in these occasions.
After an abundant breakfast and a very interesting tour of Turin thanks to our friends of Free Turin Tour, just before going back to the Pala Vela stadium, we are being held up by a man on the street:
“You are from the Arianna Fontana Fan Club! At the stadium you were so cute with your green berets!”
What can we say - we have left our mark – now it’s up to Arianna to round out this weekend in Turin in the best possible way.
First obstacle to overcome are the 1000 metres, a distance which has always been "hostile" to Arianna.
After winning the qualifying round in the quarter-finals, in the semi-finals Arianna engages in an enthralling duel with British Gilmartin: it seems to be a question of milliseconds, just like the Olympic semi-finals in Vancouver in 2010. But in the end Gilmartin is disqualified because of a previous irregularity - Arianna is still in the finals!
But the unexpected is always right around the corner. The 1000 m finals do end in the worst possible way: Arianna is disqualified because of contact with Dutch Van Kerkhof. Prosvirnova wins gold and gains 15 points on Arianna in the overall standings.
In the fan section disappointment about what has just happened is palpable.
But I tell myself: "We are here for her, there are many of us, we are watching her pursuing once again a dream called European championship. We need to make ourselves be heard, need to help her!"
And with what is left of our voices, we chant our encouragement.
Now the 3000 m SuperFinal is in the last rounds.
Arianna remains in third position until there are only three more rounds to go.
When she decides to overtake De Vries, behind her team companions Peretti and Valcepina get going as well: in order to bring in the title, one athlete needs to go before skater Prosvirnova.
Team play is needed.
As the bell for the last lap rings, on the last straight Arianna attacks and overtakes Konstantivova.
For those behind her there is no time left to react: Arianna gets in first, Prosvirnova “only” third.
Arianna Fontana is European Champion!
We can see her joy, her smile, we see her bunching her fist, she waves to us: Maybe this title is also “ours” in a way.
With the spectacular gold in the women’s relay, dominated by Arianna, Cecilia, Lucia and Martina, our voices really do get worn out.
We wait for Arianna to finish interviews and anti-doping checks, for an unforgettable group picture on the Pala Vela ice.
Our hands form the number "SIX" representing the European Championships Arianna has won.
The number six – “sei” in Italian - also stands for a wordplay possible in this language: “sei” also means “you are” – after 11 years YOU ARE still here, right on top of Europe.