Love triangles, panic attacks and gold medals – life is never dull for Italy’s best-known sportswoman, Federica Pellegrini.
The swimmer, who will be looking to retain her 200 metres freestyle gold at the London Olympics as well as pick up other medals, is never far from the headlines, and absolutely anything could happen at the Games.
Her occasional tendency to lose her cool and succumb to a panic attack before diving into the pool means opponents will think they can beat her even if the 23-year-old’s times suggest she should coast to victory.
Pellegrini seemed to be getting over her anxiety issues, but last month she failed to get through the 400-metres semi-final at the European championships, complaining of pain in her leg.
Italian media reckoned the problem was all in her head again, and medical tests showed no issues.
“When you give your best and you swim a time so indescribably bad, you have to ask yourself some questions. But now we’ll start over. I’ve got two months of intensive training ahead,” she told reporters.
The last time the pressure was really on, at the Rome world championships in 2009 in front of her adoring home fans, Pellegrini managed to control her emotions and put in a series of stunning displays in the searing heat – albeit with the now banned supersuits. She won gold in the 200 and 400 freestyle and then retained her titles in Shanghai last year.
Her victories came despite the loss of her inspirational coach Alberto Castagnetti in October, 2009. The death of the 66-year-old affected Pellegrini greatly.
But Castagnetti has not been the only important man in her life. Pellegrini has spent much of the last few years on the front pages of gossip and men’s magazines in Italy after being involved in a swimming champion love triangle.
She was engaged to fellow Italian swimmer Luca Marin, who was previously romantically involved with French pool heroine Laure Manaudou.
Spats between the female pair had French and Italian newspapers in dreamland with Manaudou having a similar profile to Pellegrini’s in France.
While Manaudou went on to date French swimmer Frederick Bousquet, Pellegrini fell for Italian freestyle specialist Filippo Magnini.
At the Games, Pellegrini is among Italy’s best hopes for glory. If she can keep her focus, Pellegrini could become one of the faces of the Games. The Venetian is used to the camera lens and even if everything goes wrong in London, she may still be hogging the limelight.