01 NOV 2012 Feature Rome, Italy

Donato and Greco – two generations keeping Italy’s Triple Jump tradition going strong

Frabrizio Donato wins Triple Jump nationals (Lorenzo Sampaolo)Frabrizio Donato wins Triple Jump nationals (Lorenzo Sampaolo) © Copyright

1 November 2012 - Fabrizio Donato finally crowned his long career during a fantastic 2012 season in which he won the European outdoor gold medal in Helsinki and the Olympic bronze medal in London, beating his rival and friend Daniele Greco who finished fourth, a highly successful result for a 23-year-old triple jumper in his first Olympic Games.

The Triple jump is the vintage discipline of Italian athletics. Inspired by the recent results of Donato, Greco and Fabrizio Schembri (PB 17.27m). Another youngster Andrea Chiari, fifth at the World Junior Championships in Moncton 2010, won the Italian Indoor Championships with 16.85m at the age of 21.

“The success of Italian Triple Jump means that we have worked very well since the end of the 1990s,” said Donato. “We are followed by very good coaches who are reaping the fruits of years of good work.

“It all began in the 1990s when former Soviet coach Robert Zotko worked for the Italian Federation at the National Athletics School in Formia. My coach Roberto Pericoli has learnt a lot from years of close collaboration with Zotko and has been influenced by his technical advice and his training methods. We are taking advantage from Zotko’s project for the Italian Federation. Zotko also worked with Beijing Olympic champion Nelson Evora.”

Donato, 36, started his indoor season with a fourth place at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul with 17.28m. Greco also leapt to 17.28m but Donato prevailed in the Italian battle on count-back. Donato was in third place with his second round 17.28m but Russia Lyukman Adams overhauled the Italian veteran in the penultimate round with 17.36m. Donato could not respond because he felt a minor injury during the third attempt.

Greco’s rapid rise

Greco produced the first achievement of his senior international career after a promising start in the junior and under 23 age categories in which he finished fourth at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz in a competition won by France’s World Indoor record holder Teddy Tamgho. One year later Greco won the European Under 23 gold medal in Kaunas with 17.20m.

“I played football for Galatone, the local team from my native town near Lecce in Southern Italy, until the age of 13,” Greco recalls. “But in 2003 I took part in the Italian Youth Games where I was spotted by my coach Raimondo Orsini who was impressed by my speed during an 80 metres hurdles race where I finished fifth. I began with Triple jump quite by chance as there were no other guys available to cover this discipline for the National Under 16 Championships in 2003.”

“My role model is Jonathan Edwards, not only for his achievements but also because of his religious faith. Like Edwards I have a deep faith in God,” Greco added.

Greco won his first international medal when he finished third at the 2006 ISF Gymnasiade; two years later he broke the national indoor junior record held by Andrew Howe jumping 16.12m and some weeks after his fourth place at the 2008 World Junior Championships he tied the long-standing Italian junior record outdoors, held by Paolo Camossi, with 16.41m.

Greco has a very good speed base – his 100m PB is 10.38 - which makes him one of the fastest triple jumpers. In 2009 he won the Italian U23 title in the 60m in 6.75. “I have always used my speed to jump far and I will continue training my speed to improve my triple jump performances,” he says.

Istanbul sets the tone for 2012

Istanbul was the stepping stone for what was going to happen during the summer. Donato, fully recovered from the injury that postponed his outdoor season, started the summer on a high note by clinching the first outdoor gold medal at the European Championships in Helsinki. Despite awful weather conditions with rain and wind, Donato produced his best outdoor series of jumps taking the gold with a wind-assisted 17.63m which he backed up with a legal jump of 17.53m and two more attempts well over the 17 metres barrier (17.49m and 17.17m). In his career Donato jumped further only once, back in 2000 when he set the long standing Italian outdoor record of 17.60m during an outstanding clash against his friend Paolo Camossi at the Notturna meeting in Milan.

Greco, who did not get through the qualifying round at the European Championships, bounced back the following week at the Italian Championships in Bressanone where he won the title with a wind-assisted 17.67m ahead of Donato who leapt to a legal 17.52m in an amazing competition where Schembri also leapt over 17 metres with a wind-assisted 17.23m.

Some injury problems on the eve of the Olympic Games were a cause of concern for Donato but any doubts were dispelled at Olympic Stadium in front of 80,000 enthusiastic spectators when Donato leapt 17.48m in the fourth round after three other huge jumps in the first three rounds (17.38m-17.44m-17.45m) and won the Olympic bronze medal ahead of Greco who leapt 17.34m, the second best legal jump of his career after his 17.47m (which makes him the second best performer of all-time in Italy) in a small meeting in Potenza in mid-June.

Donato’s passion burns strong

Donato has always been considered an extraordinary example of longevity after a long career in which he also collected the European indoor gold medal in Turin 2009 with 17.59m and a European Indoor silver medal two years later in Paris where he jumped a sensational 17.73m but had to settle for silver behind Teddy Tamgho’s 17.92m World indoor record in a memorable competition.

During an evening of celebration following his Olympic bronze, Donato expressed his joy. “For me athletics has always been a passion. I have never felt it as a sacrifice. I still enjoy athletics and I love what I do every day. I take my six-year-old daughter Greta to school every morning and then I begin my training. If my competition in London had not gone well, I would have returned to training to pursue new dreams with the same passion and love for athletics as before. I owe much to the support of my wife Patrizia Spuri (former Italian 400m record holder) and Greta.” During the Olympic final Donato wore a t-shirt which read, ‘Dad, you are my champion’.

“Greta is my inspiration. She is very proud of her father and asked me to talk to her classmates at school about my athlete’s life and the meaning of competing at the Olympic Games. The fact that their classmates have become my fans and they watched me on television gave me the drive and the motivation in Helsinki and London. In September her classmates and her teachers made me a nice surprise to welcome me when I took Greta to the first day of school. They hung a big medal on the wall of the classroom to celebrate my achievement in London.”

Donato, who has always been praised as a positive example for his dedication and his genuine approach to athletics, aroused the enthusiasm of many children in post-Olympic meetings.  He took part in kids clinics held in Mendrisio in Switzerland (on the eve of the Weltklasse Diamond League meeting in Zurich) and Padua before the traditional Italian meeting. “The nicest aspect of my medals this summer was the chance to meet a lot of children. I am always available when it comes to help athletics and give my contribution to my sport.”

Donato crowned a successful season with a win at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Zurich where he leapt to 17.29 on a rainy night beating Olympic and World champion Christian Taylor. Donato became the first Italian athlete to win a Diamond League meeting and the second Italian in history to win in Zurich after former 3000m Steeplechase World champion Francesco Panetta in 1988.

“2012 was a dream year,” Donato said. “I could not have asked for more from this season. Years of hard worked have finally paid off. I still feel the drive and the adrenaline to continue because I still have more dreams to fulfill.”

Friendy brother-like rivalry

Donato and Greco have developed a very friendly rivalry which has contributed to push both beyond their limits. Donato is trained by his lifetime coach Roberto Pericoli. Greco is coached by Raimondo Orsini but often trains with Donato near Rome and follows the advice of Pericoli, who is the national Triple Jump coach for the Italian federation.

“Daniele is a talented athlete and a very clever guy. Few athletes have had the courage to spend two to three weeks every month far from their home town. His trainer Raimondo Orsini is taking advantage from working closely with my coach. Daniele is like a younger brother for me. He often needs technical help and I am very happy to give him my help,” Donato said of his relationship with Greco.

Greco also praised his frequent training partner. “I have a great relationship with Fabrizio and I am proud to train with him. We push each other in training. I was in the same competitions when he achieved his best results as in London and I am happy to have contributed to his recent success.”

A fourth place at the Olympic Games is often regarded as a disappointment, or “a wooden medal”, but in Greco’s case it was welcomed as a big success for a young athlete who is considered as Donato’s heir for the next four years leading to the 2016 Olympic Games.

“One month before London I would have been happy with a fourth place at the Olympic Games but after the London final I felt a bit disappointed,” Greco says. “Unfortunately I suffered from cramps. At the same time I feel happy for Fabrizio. He really deserved the medal which crowns his career. I have a lot of years ahead and more Olympic Games. I have to work on some technical details and learn to deal with the pressure of the big international events.

“In any case it was thrilling to compete on the Olympic stage and I am proud with my result. Italian Triple Jump is so successful because we have a great school. Fabrizio is the star but behind him there are younger jumpers like me and Andrea Chiari.”

The London final brought back the memory of the historic 1968 final in Mexico City where Giuseppe Gentile became the first Italian triple jumper to win an Olympic medal, finishing third with 17.22m. In that fabulous competition Gentile broke the World record twice with 17.10m in the qualifying round and 17.22m in the final but his record was improved twice more by former Soviet Viktor Saneyev (17.39m) and Brazilian Nelson Prudencio (17.27m).

After London Donato fulfilled his dream to meet Gentile during a special meeting between the pair who made Italian Triple Jump history at the Olympic Games.

“I felt thrilled to meeting Gentile,” Donato said. “He is a legend of Italian athletics. I met a simple person who loves our sport and shares my own values. It was very emotional to meet such a living legend. Beppe was very thrilled too. I saw that my coach Roberto Pericoli talked with Gentile’s coach Luigi Rosati about Triple Jump technique and training methods. The greatness of a coach is the ability to update his training methods and this explains the reason for my coach’s success.”

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF