The Turin Adventure is still fresh in my memory when – in agreement with my faithful travel companion Tommaso – I decide to book a return flight to Amsterdam for the second weekend in March.
Arianna's last important appointment in this long season will be held not far away: the "Rotterdam AHOY" has been chosen to host the Short Track World Championship 2017.
Arianna gets there after the tour de force of races that has characterized this season: two more stages of the World Championship (Dresden and Minsk) and the Military Championship in Sotchi, which she has won for the second time after Annecy in 2013.
A Fan Club delegation accompanies her to this important event: her parents Renato and Maria Luisa, the never missing Giuseppe and uncle Michele, friends Gisella and Fernando.
Tommaso and I arrive in Rotterdam late Saturday morning: the day before Arianna has brilliantly passed the trials of all distances (500/1000/1500), now the difficult semifinals for the 1500 metres are waiting for her in the early afternoon of that same day.
In the Netherlands Short Track is a national sport, comparable to what soccer means to Italy – enormous boards all over the city with the challenging eyes of local idols Knegt and Schulzing, masses of people swarming to the stadium, tickets at not exactly convenient prices.
We arrive at the AHOY when the 1500’s semifinals are already over, while we are waiting for Maria Luisa, I get the news that Arianna has qualified for the finals after the two Dutch skaters and we start cheering right in front of the usher who has just asked us “May I help you?”.
We enter the arena and … what can I say? Lights and music accompany a spectacular choreography staged by the audience: things we (unfortunately) will never see in Italy.
Arianna fights for a medal in the 1500’s finals, but a contact with departing champion Choi in the last lap gets her penalized and she has to be content with fourth place.
Contact in Short Track plays an active and decisive role from now on and the Dutch World Championship brings great disappointment to the Azzurri.
The same day there is contact between Arianna and the Hungarian Jaszapati during the quarter finals in the 500 m race, then another one between Cecilia Maffei and a Chinese girl during the semifinals of the relay – this puts an end to the hope of winning a medal in the two distances.
The disappointment is intense: I can see it in Arianna’s eyes when she comes up to greet us on the tiers, watching her opponents fighting out the finals. But it is in this kind of moments that our being a group, a Fan Club, makes itself felt, spontaneously: Pizza, beer and lots of laughter in one of Rotterdam’s Italian restaurants help to forget what went wrong today, something Arianna really needed.
Next day, at 2 pm, back at the AHOY.
The atmosphere is electric, Arianna enters the 1000’s quarter-finals in the right spirit and manages to get into the semifinals without difficulty.
But there are moments when head and legs do not cooperate the way every athlete wishes for: for Arianna the Rotterdam weekend is unfortunately one of these moments.
The elimination during the semifinals of the 1000 metres and the 9th place (in a race which UK’s Christie well deservedly won, by the way) leave a bitter aftertaste, but there is still hope for the next season, with the Olympics in Pyeongchang, an event Arianna has been working towards for some time.
The return to Italy falls on the weekend of the Italian Championship in Courmayeur.
On this occasion the Fan Club splits in two, with Luisa and Renato going on the trip, while the rest of staff presides at the San Giuseppe Fair to promote membership in 2017: this year’s gadget is a little backpack all in green.
Arianna wins across all distances, Italian championess for the sixth time in her career, while the staff closes the day with almost 100 new members.
That evening all of us celebrate together.
With such a great group there is no real defeat.